Hearing loss is a decreased ability to hear. There are two main categories of hearing loss:
- Conductive hearing loss due to something interfering with the sound passing to the inner ear.
Sensorineural hearing loss due to damage to:
- The major organ in the ear responsible for hearing (the cochlea)
- The major nerve pathway (8th cranial nerve) and/or area of the brain responsible for hearing
The Anatomy of the Ear
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
Causes of conductive hearing loss include:
Causes of sensorineural hearing loss include:
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors for hearing loss include:
- Family history
- Meniere's disease
- Not receiving all recommended immunizations
Repeated or poorly treated
- Exposure to loud noise, music, or machinery
- Use of certain antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs
Diseases that may result in blocked blood flow, including
atherosclerosis, problems with blood clots, and collagen vascular diseases
Symptoms may include:
Decreased ability to hear any of the following:
- Higher pitched sounds
- Lower pitched sounds
- All sounds
- Speech when there is background noise
- Ringing sounds in the ears
- Problems with balance
- In children, hearing loss may cause difficulty learning to speak.
Call your doctor if you notice hearing loss. You should especially call if you also have:
- Ear pain
- Ringing or other sounds in your ear
- Problems with speech or balance
- Sensitivity to sound
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam. Tests may include:
- Weber test—a tuning fork sounded and placed on your forehead or teeth. This can help distinguish conductive from sensorineural hearing loss.
- Rinne test—a tuning fork sounded and placed in front and then behind of the ear. This can help distinguish conductive from sensorineural hearing loss.
- Audiometric tests—These involve listening to tones in a soundproof room and reporting whether or not you hear the tones.
- Tympanometry—This test measures the pressure in the middle ear and examines the middle ear's response to pressure waves.
- Computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the head—a type of imaging study that uses a computer to make pictures of the inside of the head. This may be done to check for a tumor or bone injury.
- Brain stem auditory evoked responses—electrodes attached to the scalp and used to measure the electrical response of the brain to sound
- Electrocochleography—This tests the cochlea and the auditory nerve.
This is probably the simplest, easiest treatment for hearing loss.
There are many types. Digital technology has created tiny devices that cause little distortion.
One example of a device is the FM trainer. With this device, a person speaks into a microphone. The sound is then transmitted by radio waves directly to the earphone set worn on your ear. This can be particularly helpful if you have trouble hearing speech when there is background noise. FM trainers can also help children with hearing loss to understand their teachers.
is surgically implanted. It directly stimulates part of the brain and uses a tiny computer microprocessor to sort out incoming sound.
When hearing loss is caused by other medical conditions, it may be possible to improve hearing by treating those conditions.
If your hearing loss may be caused or worsened by a medication, talk to your doctor about stopping that particular drug or changing to a drug that does not affect hearing.
It may be possible to slow age-related hearing loss in elderly persons through dietary modification. For example, if you are deficient in
folic acid, this supplement may be helpful for you. Talk to your doctor.
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.
If you have hearing loss, some changes may help you maximize your ability to hear. Follow these guidelines when talking to other people:
- Face the person that you are talking to. This will allow you to see their facial expressions and watch their lips move.
- Ask other people to speak loudly and more clearly.
- Turn off background noise (eg, TV, radio).
- In public places, choose a place to sit that is away from noise.
- Work with a special trainer to learn how to lip read. Lip reading involves paying close attention to how a person’s mouth and body are moving when they talk.
To help prevent hearing loss:
- Stop smoking.
- Adequately treat ear infections.
- Get all appropriate immunizations.
- Treat all medical conditions.
- Avoid exposure to excess noise.
- Use adequate ear protection when using noisy equipment.
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Last reviewed September 2012 by Kari Kassir, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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