Hearing Loss

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

  • Conductive hearing loss is caused by an interference with the sound passing to the inner ear
  • Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to:
    • The cochlea — the major organ in the ear responsible for hearing
    • The 8th cranial nerve — the major nerve pathway and/or area of the brain responsible for hearing

Causes of conductive hearing loss may include:

  • Impacted ear wax
  • Fluid in the middle ear
  • Ear infections
  • Perforation of ear drum
  • Changes the bone structure of the ear, a condition called otosclerosis
  • Congenital anomaly causing complete closure of the ear canal
  • Tumors

Causes of sensorineural hearing loss is unknown in most people. Some causes may include:

  • Otosclerosis affecting the inner ear
  • Vascular disease that affects blood flow to the ear
  • Previous brain, ear surgery or viral infection that causes damage to the inner ear
  • Trauma

Are You at Risk?

Factors that may increase your risk of hearing loss include:

  • Increasing age
  • Family history
  • Exposure to excess noise
  • Exposure to medications, such as antibiotics, diuretics or heart medications
  • Having certain health conditions, such as
    • Cardiovascular disease
    • Viral infections
    • Multiple sclerosis
    • Inner ear disorders, such as Meniere’s disease
    • Repeated or poorly treated ear infections
  • Not receiving all recommended immunizations
  • Obesity

Symptoms of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss may cause a decreased ability to hear:

  • Higher pitched sounds
  • Lower pitched sounds
  • All sounds
  • Speech when there is background noise

Hearing loss may also cause:

  • Vertigo
  • Ringing sounds in the ears
  • Problems with balance
  • In children, hearing loss may cause difficulty learning to speak.

When Should I Call My Doctor?

Call your doctor if you notice hearing loss. You should especially call if you also have:

  • Ear pain
  • Vertigo
  • Ringing or other sounds in your ear
  • Problems with speech or balance
  • Sensitivity to sound

Diagnosing Hearing Loss

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. Tests may include:

  • Weber test or Rinne test — To can help distinguish conductive from sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Audiometric tests — A direct test of hearing.
  • Tympanometry — This test measures the pressure in the middle ear and examines the middle ear's response to pressure waves.
  • CT scan or MRI scan — This may be done to check for a tumor or bone injury.
  • Brain stem auditory evoked responses — Measures the electrical response of the brain to sound to test hearing
  • Electrocochleography — This tests the function of the cochlea and the auditory nerve.

Hearing Loss Treatment

Earwax removal is the easiest treatment for hearing loss. There are also many types of hearing aids that can help you hear with little distortion. 

Ear Devices

The FM trainer transmits sound via radio waves directly to your earphone set. This is helpful if you have trouble hearing speech when there is background noise. 

Cochlear Implant

The cochlear implant is a surgically implanted device that directly stimulates part of the brain and uses a tiny computer microprocessor to sort out incoming sound.

Nutritional Changes

It may be possible to slow age-related hearing loss through dietary modification. For example, if you're deficient in folic acid, this supplement may be helpful for you.


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.

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.