Hearing loss is a decreased ability to hear. There are 2 types of hearing loss, conductive and sensorineural. The type of hearing loss depends on the cause.
Anatomy of the Ear
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Conductive hearing loss is caused by the interference or inability of sound to travel along the pathway from the outer to the middle or inner ear.
Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to:
Hearing loss can be the result of genetics, aging, infection, blockage, disease, or injury. In many cases, the cause of sensorineural hearing loss is unknown.
Hearing loss is more common in older adults. Factors that may increase your chance of hearing loss include:
Problems that affect the ear, such as:
Other factors, such as:
Hearing loss may cause a decreased ability to hear:
Hearing loss may also cause:
Call your doctor if you notice hearing loss. You should especially call if you also have:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
A complete evaluation of the ears will be done. Tests may include:
Images may be taken of your ears and surrounding structures. This can be done with:
The electrical response of your brain to sound may be tested. This can be done with brain stem auditory evoked response testing.
When hearing loss is caused by other medical conditions, it may be possible to improve hearing by treating those conditions. Other treatment options include:
Non-surgical treatment options are not invasive and may help improve your hearing. These include:
Oral or injected corticosteroids may be used to help treat certain types of hearing loss. They are used to:
If medications are suspected as a cause of hearing loss, your doctor will alter your prescriptions to see if hearing improves.
If you have hearing loss, some changes may help you maximize your ability to hear. Follow these guidelines when talking to other people:
Surgery may be done in some cases of conductive hearing loss to correct the middle ear problem, such as in otosclerosis, ossicular damage or fixation, and ear infections. Procedures may include:
A cochlear implant directly stimulates part of the brain and uses a tiny computer microprocessor to sort out incoming sound. It can be for certain types of hearing loss that affect the inner ear.
To help reduce the chance of hearing loss:
American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
American Tinnitus Association
The Canadian Hearing Society
Canadian Society of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
Hansen MC. Otosclerosis and sensorineural hearing loss. A clinical study. Archives of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery. 1983;109(9).
Hearing loss prevention. Better Hearing Institute website. Available at: http://www.betterhearing.org/hearingpedia/hearing-loss-prevention. Accessed August 5, 2015.
Lee SH, Chang Y, Lee JE, Cho JH. The values of diffusion tensor imaging and functional MRI in evaluating profound sensorineural hearing loss. Cochlear Implants International. 2004;5 Suppl 1:149-152.
Living with hearing loss. Hearing Loss Association of America website. Available at: http://www.hearingloss.org/content/living-hearing-loss. Accessed August 5, 2015.
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115342/Sudden-sensorineural-hearing-loss. Updated May 27, 2015. Accessed September 28, 2016.
2/1/2007 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115342/Sudden-sensorineural-hearing-loss : Durga J, Verhoef P, Anteunis L, Schouten E, Kok F. Effects of folic acid supplementation on hearing in older adults: a randomized, controlled trial. Ann Int Med. 2007;146(1):1-9.
Last reviewed August 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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