In this guide, you will get an explanation of what a hearing loss is and find facts about the causes and symptoms of hearing loss. You will also find information about how to treat hearing loss.
What is hearing loss?
Hearing loss is when your ability to hear is reduced. A hearing loss makes it more difficult for you to hear speech and other sounds. Hearing loss is quite common. The most common causes of hearing loss are noise and ageing. In most cases a hearing loss cannot be cured. Hearing loss is typically treated with hearing aids.
What are the causes of hearing loss?
A hearing loss can be caused by many factors, but age and noise are the two most common causes.
Loss of hearing is a natural consequence of getting older. Our hearing ability worsens in our 40s and onwards and when we reach our 80s, more than half of us suffer from significant hearing loss. Age-related hearing loss is also called Presbyacusis.
Another common reason of hearing loss is exposure to noise. It can also be a consequence of living in a noisy world. This noise can come from our work or from voluntary exposure to noise, such as noisy motors or loud music at rock concerts, night clubs, discos and from stereos - with or without the use of headphones. The increasing use of portable MP3 players is increasing the effects of hearing loss.
Hearing loss can also occur as a result of other causes. It can be caused by:
- Some diseases and infections
- Certain syndromes
- Medications and drugs
- Damages to the ears
- Injuries to the head
- Malformation of the ear or blockage of the ear
- Genetic factors
- Tumors in the head
- Alcohol and tobacco
Read more about the causes of hearing loss.
What are the types of hearing loss?
There are two main types of hearing loss: sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss.
Besides these two major types, there is also a mixed hearing loss, which is a combination of a sensorineural hearing loss and a conductive hearing loss. A hearing loss can also be sudden, asymmetrical or hidden. The hearing loss can also be bilateral or unilateral.
What is sensorineural hearing loss?
A sensorineural hearing loss results from damage to the tiny hair cells in the inner ear. Age-related hearing loss also known as Presbyacusis is a type of sensorineural hearing loss and so is a noise-induced hearing loss, which is a permanent hearing loss caused by prolonged exposure to high levels of noise.
What is conductive hearing loss?
What is mixed hearing loss?
If there are problems with conducting sound to the inner ear and the hair cells in the inner ear are damaged at the same time, it is called a mixed hearing loss. It is a combination of a conductive hearing loss and a sensorineural hearing loss.
Other types of hearing loss
A hearing loss can also be a bilateral hearing loss which means that there is a hearing loss in both ears.
You can also have a hearing loss in one ear. It is called unilateral hearing loss or single-sided deafness. A hearing loss in both ears is called a bilateral hearing loss.
A hearing loss can also occur suddenly from one day to the other. This is called a sudden hearing loss.
If you have a hearing loss in both ears and there is a great difference in the hearing loss between the ears, it is called an asymmetric hearing loss.
In some cases, a hearing loss can be hidden. This is called a hidden hearing loss. It is a type of hearing loss that cannot be measured by a common hearing test. You may have a hidden hearing loss if you experience problems with hearing in situations with background noise.
Read more about the different types of hearing loss.
What are the symptoms of hearing loss?
Most cases of hearing loss develop gradually so the symptoms are often difficult to recognize. But for all types of hearing loss, the major sign is reduced hearing or problems hearing in different listening situations.
If you experience some signs of hearing impairment, you should contact your family doctor or hearing health care professional and have your hearing tested. Read more about the symptoms of hearing loss.
How is hearing loss tested?
A hearing loss is identified through a hearing test. A hearing test comprises of a number of different examinations which, when taken together, can determine whether or not you suffer from hearing loss and to what extent. A hearing test is carried out by a hearing professional using professional equipment. But you can get an indication of how well you hear by taking our online hearing test.
What is the definition of hearing loss?
A hearing loss is defined as a certain level of reduced hearing in one or both ears. Hearing loss is divided into categories depending on the degree of the hearing loss. The most common categories of hearing loss classifications are mild, moderate, severe and profound hearing loss.
If you have a mild hearing loss, the quietest sounds that you can hear with your better ear are between 25 and 40 dB. With a moderate hearing loss, the quietest sounds you can hear with your better ear are between 40 and 70 dB. If you have a severe hearing loss the quietest sounds you can hear with your ear are between 70 and 95 dB. And with a profound hearing loss the quietest sounds you can hear are 95 dB or higher. Read more about the definition of hearing loss.
How common is hearing loss?
Hearing loss is fairly widespread.
If you carried out a hearing test on a larger group of people, one-in-six would have a hearing loss of more than 25 dB, which is the definition of hearing impairment recognized by the World Health Organization, WHO. This means that around 16-17% of all adults have a hearing loss.
Numerous studies in Europe and USA have asked whether people have hearing loss. Around 10-11% of people asked answered that they believe they have a hearing loss. This is the same as between every ninth or tenth adult.
The difference between the two numbers is because it is not everybody with a hearing loss who is actually aware of it.
The older one becomes, the higher the likelihood that you have a hearing loss.
How to prevent hearing loss?
Many cases of hearing loss caused by noise can be prevented by avoiding exposure to loud noise as much as possible or by using hearing protection. Daily exposure to noise is directly related to the risk of hearing damage. We are exposed to loud noises daily. For example, when we use headphones, when we are in traffic, the gym, the cinema, stadiums, cafés and at work. If the noise level is too high, it is a good idea to use ear plugs. Read more about preventing hearing loss.
What are the consequences of hearing loss?
Hearing loss can have a range of consequences. The implications differ from person to person, but most people with hearing impairment suffer some social, psychological and physical problems as a result of their hearing problems. Read more about the consequences of hearing loss.
Children and hearing loss
Children can also experience hearing loss. Hearing problems in smaller children are normally caused by genetic factors, physical abnormalities in the ear or it might be caused by certain diseases. In older children and especially teenagers, the hearing problems may often be a result of noise exposure. Read more about hearing loss in children.
Can hearing loss be treated?
Hearing loss can be treated, but hearing cannot be restored. In most cases, hearing loss is treated with the use of hearing aids. Some are treated with different types of implants and surgery may cure some types of conductive hearing loss.
A sensorineural hearing loss is normally treated with hearing aids. A conductive hearing loss can often be treated with an operation or removal of the blockage of the ear, in certain cases hearing aids or implants might be needed. A sudden hearing loss must be treated instantly and the treatment often involves the use of steroids. If you experience a sudden hearing loss you should seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
Can hearing loss lead to deafness?
Some types of hearing loss develop gradually. An age-related hearing loss typically becomes worse over the years.
For most people, a hearing loss will not develop into deafness, but for some, it can develop into a profound hearing loss or even deafness. Profound hearing loss is defined as the inability to hear sound levels below 90 dB.
Can ear infections cause hearing loss?
Ear infections can cause hearing loss. It is relatively common to suffer from a temporary mild hearing loss during and just after an ear infection. Especially children with otitis media can experience a temporary hearing loss. If the ear infection becomes permanent, also called chronic otitis media, there is also a risk of a permanent hearing loss caused by the ear infection. Therefore, it is important to treat ear infections. Read more about otitis media.
How long does hearing loss last after an ear infection?
A hearing loss that occurs during an ear infection is usually temporary. It typically disappears sometime after the infection is gone and the hearing will recover.
If you or your child still experience a hearing loss sometime after your ear infection is gone, you should contact a hearing professional.