Hearing loss is being partly or totally unable to hear sound in one or both ears.
Decreased hearing; Deafness; Loss of hearing; Conductive hearing loss
Symptoms of hearing loss may include:
- Certain sounds seem too loud
- Difficulty following conversations when two or more people are talking
- Difficulty hearing in noisy areas
- Hard to tell high-pitched sounds (such as "s" or "th") from one another
- Less trouble hearing men's voices than women's voices
- Problems hearing when there is background noise
- Voices that sound mumbled or slurred
Other symptoms include:
Conductive hearing loss (CHL) occurs because of a mechanical problem in the outer or middle ear.
- The three tiny bones of the ear (ossicles) may not conduct sound properly.
- Or, the eardrum may not vibrate in response to sound.
Causes of conductive hearing loss can often be treated. They include:
Buildup of wax in the ear canal
Damage to the very small bones (ossicles) that are right behind the eardrum
Foreign object that is stuck in the ear canal
Hole in the eardrum
Scar on the eardrum from repeat infections
Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) occurs when the tiny hair cells (nerve endings) that detect sound in the ear are injured, diseased, do not work correctly, or have died. This type of hearing loss often cannot be reversed.
Sensorineural hearing loss is commonly caused by:
Hearing loss may be present at birth (congenital) and can be due to:
- Birth defects that cause changes in the ear structures
- Genetic conditions (more than 400 are known)
- Infections the mother passes to her baby in the womb (such as toxoplasmosis
, or herpes
The ear can also be injured by:
You can often flush wax buildup out of the ear (gently) with ear syringes (available in drug stores) and warm water. Wax softeners (like Cerumenex) may be needed if the wax is hard and stuck in the ear.
Take care when removing foreign objects from the ear. Unless it is easy to get to, have your health care provider remove the object. Don't use sharp instruments to remove foreign objects.
See your health care provider for any other hearing loss.
Call your health care provider if
Call your health care provider if:
Hearing problems interfere with your lifestyle
Hearing problems do not go away or become worse
The hearing is worse in one ear than the other
- You have sudden, severe hearing loss or ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- You have other symptoms, such as ear pain
, along with hearing problems
- You have new headaches, weakness, or numbness anywhere on your body
What to expect at your health care provider's office
The health care provider will take your medical history and do a physical exam.
Tests that may be done include:
The following surgeries may help some types of hearing loss:
The following may help with long-term hearing loss:
Cochlear implants are only used in people who have lost too much hearing to benefit from a hearing aid.
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Hildebrand MS, Husein M, Smith RJH. Genetic sensorineural hearing loss. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2010:chap 147.
Arts HA. Sensorineural hearing loss in adults. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2010:chap 149.
Lonsbury-Martin BL, Martin GK. Noise-induced hearing loss. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2010:chap 151.
Bauer CA, Jenkins HA. Otologic symptoms and syndromes. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2010:chap 156.
El Dib RP, Matthew JL, Martins RHG. Interventions to promote the wearing of hearing protection. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;4:CD005234. DOI: 10.1002/14651858. CD005234.pub5.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington; and Seth Schwartz, MD, MPH, Otolaryngologist, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.