Hearing loss creates it difficult to hear conversations and other sounds. Many people develop hearing loss as they age, but it can affect anyone. Many children are born with hearing loss (congenital hearing loss). Some types of hearing impairments are treatable and preventable.
Hearing loss makes it difficult to understand, follow, or participate in conversations. You may find it difficult to keep track of what people are saying on TV or the phone, and you may miss the pleasant sounds of nature. Significant deafness can affect your ability to enjoy work and life.
Hearing loss is common
1 in 10 Americans has mild deafness. This is the most common sensory processing disorder. These disorders affect how your brain processes information from the senses such as hearing, sight, taste, and touch.
Who might have hearing loss?
Hearing loss affects people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities. Hearing loss is common in the elderly, affecting 1 in 3 people over 65 and a half in people over 75. Age-related deafness is called presbycusis.
Hearing loss affects infants. 2 out of every 1,000 babies are born with some form of hearing loss. Hearing loss in children is one of the most common birth defects. A condition that exists at birth is called a birth defect.
The types of hearing loss
You can have hearing loss in one ear (unilateral) or both (bilateral). The type depends on where the damage appears within the hearing system.
Types of hearing loss include:
- Conductive: Something that prevents it from passing through the outer ear (ear canal) or middle ear (the area with the three smallest ear bones: the malleolus, incus, and stapes). Prevention may include ear infections, ear wax, or ear fluid. Loud noises can be muffled, and soft sounds can be hard to hear. Medication or surgery often helps.
- Sensorineural: Hearing loss affects the inner ear (cochlea) or auditory nerve. It is often caused by loud noise, diseases, or the aging process. Babies fall into this category due to congenital conditions (being present at birth), trauma during childbirth, head injuries, or infections. Sensitive hearing loss is often permanent. Hearing aids and hearing assistive devices will help.
- Mixed: Some people have both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. A head injury, infection, or inherited condition can cause mixed hearing loss. You may need treatments for both types of hearing loss.
Difference between hearing loss and deafness
A hearing loss person can still hear sounds well enough to participate in conversations. They can improve their hearing through hearing aids or other treatments.
Someone who is deaf can hear slightly or nothing at all. Hearing aids and devices don’t help. A person who is deaf may use gesture language to communicate.
Symptoms of hearing loss
Hearing loss can happen gradually. You might not even notice you’re losing your hearing.
Most people have no pain with hearing loss. Instead, you might notice you:
- Ask people to repeat themselves often.
- Can’t hear some loud sounds, like birds singing.
- Can’t follow the conversation (especially on the telephone or at a restaurant) or think other people mumble.
- Increase the volume on the TV or radio.
- Have balance problems or dizziness.
- Experience ringing in the ears (tinnitus), pain (earache), and a fluid sensation of pressure inside the ear.
Symptoms of hearing loss in children include:
- When not turning to the sound or saying the baby’s name (after the baby is 6 months old)
- Not startling at loud noises
- Responding to some but not all sounds
- Saying “huh?” a lot
- Speech delays, such as not saying “thaatha” or “mama” by age 1
Causes of hearing loss
Loud noises frequently cause hearing loss. Occasionally this exposure is sudden and short-term. Attending a loud concert or being close to a gunshot can damage hearing.
Long-term noise exposure impacts many professions. Farmers, construction workers, musicians, and military members are most at risk.
Other risk factors that increase your likelihood of hearing loss include:
- Congenital conditions such as cytomegalovirus (CMV)
- Coronary artery disease (heart disease), strokes, and high blood pressure (hypertension)
- Damage or trauma caused by accident or injury is as simple as inserting a cotton cloth into the ear
- Family history of hearing loss.
- Ear infections, earwax buildup, or damaged eardrum
- Exposure to chemicals.
- Medications to treat cancer, heart disease, and infections
- Tumors (acoustic neuroma).
When to see a doctor
If you have deafness or you experience it, call your healthcare provider:
- Severe earache.
- Balance issues.
- Chronic ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
- Sudden hearing loss or deafness.