Hearing Loss

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Hearing loss is a decreased ability to hear. There are three main categories of hearing loss:

  • Conductive is usually caused by a problem with the anatomical structures of the ear that send sound to the inner ear
  • Sensorineural is caused by damage to:
    • The inner ear, also known as the cochlea — the major sensor for hearing
    • The hearing nerve — the nerve that carries sound signals from the cochlea to the brain
  • Mixed  – a combination of conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss

Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss

Common causes include:

  • Impacted ear wax

  • Fluid or infection behind the eardrum
  • Chronic ear infection
  • Perforation of eardrum
  • Changes the bone structure of the ear, a condition called otosclerosis
  • Trauma to the ear


Sensorineural loss of hearing is thought to be caused by a combination of factors including heredity, aging, and exposure to loud sounds. Other common causes may include:

  • Viral or bacterial infection, such as meningitis, that causes high fever
  • Vascular disease that affects blood flow to the inner ear
  • Certain medications, such as gentamicin, sildenafil (Viagra), and some chemotherapy drugs
  • Trauma

Are You at Risk?

Factors that may increase your risk include:

  • Increasing age
  • Exposure to loud sounds – work-related or recreational
  • Family history
  • Having certain health conditions, such as
    • Cardiovascular disease
    • Viral infections such as measles, mumps, and rubella
    • Multiple sclerosis
    • Inner ear disorders, such as Meniere’s disease
    • Repeated ear infections


You may have a loss of hearing if you:

  • Have trouble understanding speech, especially in noise
  • Frequently ask people to repeat themselves
  • Have to turn up the volume of the television or radio
  • Struggle to follow conversations at the dinner table, in meetings or restaurants
  • In children, hearing loss may cause difficulty learning to talk

When Should I Call My Doctor?

Call your doctor if you notice a lack of hearing, especially if you have:

  • Ear pain
  • Ringing or other sounds in your ear
  • Hearing loss or ringing in just one ear
  • Vertigo or dizziness
  • Sensitivity to sound

Your next step: See your doctor about hearing loss diagnosis and treatment.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.