Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is a decreased ability to hear.

  • Causes

    There are two main categories of hearing loss:

    • Conductive hearing loss is caused by something interfering 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 causing damage to the inner ear
    • Trauma

  • Definition

    Hearing loss is a decreased ability to hear.

    The Anatomy of the Ear
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  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. 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—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.

  • Prevention

    To help prevent hearing loss, take these steps:

    • If you smoke, talk with your doctor about the best ways to quit.
    • Adequately treat ear infections.
    • Get all appropriate immunizations.
    • Treat all medical conditions as directed by your doctor.
    • Avoid exposure to excess noise.
    • Use adequate ear protection when using noisy equipment.

  • Risk Factors

    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

    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.

  • Treatment

    When hearing loss is caused by other medical conditions, it may be possible to improve hearing by treating those conditions. Other treatment includes: