Hearing loss comes in many forms. It can range from a mild loss, in which you miss certain high-pitched sounds, to total hearing loss, or deafness. Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults. But it can affect people of all ages.
There are two main types of hearing loss:
One happens when your inner ear or auditory nerve is damaged. The inner ear is the part of your ear that creates nerve signals in response to sound waves. The auditory nerve then carries these signals from your inner ear to your brain. Hearing loss due to inner ear or auditory nerve damage is permanent.
The other type of hearing loss happens when sound waves cannot reach your inner ear. This problem can be caused by earwax buildup, fluid buildup due to an ear infection, or a hole in your eardrum. Your eardrum is the sheet of tissue at the end of your ear canal that vibrates in response to sound waves.
Causes of hearing loss and deafness include:
Long-term exposure to loud noise
Illness or infection
A severe blow to the head
People with untreated hearing loss can have a hard time communicating. They cannot enjoy the company of friends and family. They may not be able to understand a doctor's advice, respond to warnings, or hear doorbells and alarms. People with untreated hearing loss may become isolated and depressed.
If you have trouble hearing, you can get help. Possible treatments include hearing aids, certain medicines, or surgery. Assistive technologies and special training also help people with hearing loss communicate and live independently. For instance, alerting devices, such as a flashing light or a vibration can let a person with hearing loss know that the phone is ringing or if someone is at the door. Signing and cued speech are visual (rather than spoken) ways of communicating. American Sign Language is said to be the fourth most commonly used language in the United States.
If you think that you have hearing loss, see your doctor. If you ignore it, it can get worse.
Cochlear Implants - This brochure provides information on cochlear implants, a technology that can provide sense of sound to the profoundly deaf or hard of hearing. It explains how they work, who gets them, how to receive one, and what the future may hold for cochlear implants.
Hearing Aids - This brochure about hearing aids provides information on hearing loss, how common it is, and how to find out if you have hearing loss. It also explains how hearing aids can help some types of hearing loss, what the different kinds of hearing aids are, how they work, and what patients should expect from them. It also has a list of questions patients should ask before buying hearing aids, an explanation of possible hearing aid problems, tips for taking care of the devices, and whom to contact for more information.
Hearing, Ear Infections, and Deafness - This site links to information on the different causes of hearing loss in both children and adults. It also links to information on screening for hearing loss and communication options for people who are deaf or hearing impaired.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss - This fact sheet explains what noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is and what sounds can cause it. It explains how NIHL can be prevented and what research is currently being done.
Otosclerosis - Hearing loss can develop in a number of ways. This fact sheet describes how otosclerosis, or abnormal growth of the middle ear bone, can cause severe hearing loss. It also provides information about symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.
The Noise in Your Ears: Facts About Tinnitus - This publication explains what causes tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, and what you should do if you have it. It also discusses what you and hearing experts can do to relieve the symptoms.