Hearing Loss Information


Hearing loss that occurs gradually as you age (presbycusis) is common. According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated one-third of people in the United States between the ages of 65 and 75 and close to one-half of those older than 75 have some degree of hearing loss.

Doctors believe that heredity and chronic exposure to loud noises are the main factors that contribute to hearing loss over time. Other factors, such as earwax blockage, can prevent your ears from conducting sounds as well as they should.

You can't reverse hearing loss. However, you don't have to live in a world of muted, less distinct sounds. You and your doctor or hearing specialist can take steps to improve what you hear.


Signs and symptoms of hearing loss may include:
  • Muffling of speech and other sounds
  • Difficulty understanding words, especially against background noise or in a crowd of people
  • Frequently asking others to speak more slowly, clearly and loudly
  • Needing to turn up the volume of the television or radio
  • Withdrawal from conversations
  • Avoidance of some social settings
When to see a doctor Talk to your doctor if difficulty hearing is interfering with your daily life. Your hearing may have deteriorated if you find that it's harder to understand everything that's said in conversation, especially when there's background noise; if sounds seem muffled; or if you find yourself having to turn the volume higher when you listen to music, the radio or television.
Hearing aids have come a long way as technology has improved over time. Finding an audiologists to help with your hearing aids doesn't have to be a challenge. The digital age makes it all possible and easy.

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Some causes of hearing loss include damage to the inner ear, a buildup of earwax, infections and a ruptured eardrum. To understand how hearing loss occurs, it can be helpful to understand how you hear.

Causes of hearing loss include:
Damage to the inner ear. Aging and prolonged exposure to loud noise may cause wear and tear on the hairs or nerve cells in the cochlea that send sound signals to the brain. When these hairs or nerve cells are damaged or missing, electrical signals aren't transmitted as efficiently, and hearing loss occurs. Higher pitched tones may become muffled to you. It may become difficult for you to pick out words against background noise. Heredity may make you more prone to these changes. This type of hearing loss is known as sensorineural hearing loss, which is permanent.

A gradual buildup of earwax. Earwax can block the ear canal and prevent conduction of sound waves. Earwax blockage is a cause of hearing loss among people of all ages. This causes conductive hearing loss, which usually can be restored with earwax removal.

Ear infection and abnormal bone growths or tumors. In the outer or middle ear, any of these can cause hearing loss.

Ruptured eardrum (tympanic membrane perforation). Loud blasts of noise, sudden changes in pressure, poking your eardrum with an object and infection can cause your eardrum to rupture and affect your hearing.
Tests to diagnose hearing loss may include:

  • General screening tests.Your doctor may ask you to cover one ear at a time to see how well you hear words spoken at various volumes and how you respond to other sounds.

  • Tuning fork tests. Tuning forks are two-pronged, metal instruments that produce sounds when struck. Simple tests with tuning forks can help your doctor detect hearing loss. A tuning fork evaluation may also reveal whether hearing loss is caused by damage to the vibrating parts of your middle ear (including your eardrum), damage to sensors or nerves of your inner ear, or damage to both.

  • Audiometer tests. During these more-thorough tests conducted by an audiologist, you wear earphones and hear sounds directed to one ear at a time. The audiologist presents a range of sounds of various tones and asks you to indicate each time you hear the sound. Each tone is repeated at faint levels to find out when you can barely hear. The audiologist will also present various words to determine your hearing ability.

If you have hearing problems, help is available. Treatment depends on the cause and severity of your hearing loss.

Options include:

  • Removing wax blockage.Earwax blockage is a common reversible cause of hearing loss. Your doctor may remove earwax by loosening it with oil and then flushing, scooping or suctioning the softened wax out.

  • Hearing aids. If your hearing loss is due to damage to your inner ear, a hearing aid can help by making sounds stronger and easier for you to hear. An audiologist can discuss with you the potential benefits of using a hearing aid, recommend a device and fit you with it. In some cases, you may be satisfied with an inexpensive, over-the-ear microphone device available at electronic stores. You may need to try more than one device to find one that works well for you.

  • Cochlear implants. If you have severe hearing loss, a cochlear implant may be an option for you. Unlike a hearing aid that amplifies sound and directs it into your ear canal, a cochlear implant compensates for damaged or nonworking parts of your inner ear. If you're considering a cochlear implant, your audiologist, along with a medical doctor who specializes in disorders of the ears, nose and throat (ENT), can discuss the risks and benefits with you.

These tips can help you to communicate more easily despite your hearing loss:

  • Position yourself to hear. Face the person with whom you're having a conversation.

  • Turn off background noise. For example, noise from a television may interfere with conversation.

  • Ask others to speak clearly. Most people will be helpful if they know you're having trouble hearing them.

  • Choose quiet settings. In public, such as in a restaurant or at a social gathering, choose a place to talk that's away from noisy areas.

  • Consider using an assistive listening device. Hearing devices, such as TV-listening systems or telephone-amplifying devices, can help you hear better while decreasing other noises around you.

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