What is hearing loss?

Hearing loss is the condition of not being able to hear well enough to understand normal conversational speech and enjoy everyday life. You also have a hard time discriminating certain sounds and catching word endings. You may strain to hear people especially when there is background noise or when there is a distance between you and the talker.

There are three types of hearing loss:

  • A conductive hearing loss is a reduction in hearing due to a disorder in the outer ear (ear canal) or middle ear.
  • A sensorineural hearing loss is a reduction in hearing due to a disorder in the inner ear or auditory nerve.
  • A mixed hearing loss is a reduction in hearing due to a combination of a conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.

A sensorineural hearing loss may be permanent. For example, permanent damage to the delicate hair cells (never endings) in the inner ear occurs when exposed to loud noise. In contrast, a conductive hearing loss, which could be caused by excessive earwax build-up, a punctured eardrum, or fluid in the middle ear, can usually be treated medically and can often be reversed.

What are the risk factors of hearing loss?

Hearing loss due to exposure at work is one of the most common work-related illnesses. This includes exposure to loud noises, as well as exposure to chemicals that are harmful to the ear. Other risk factors include aging, premature birth, and chemotherapy agents.

What are symptoms of hearing loss?

Hearing loss can occur suddenly or can develop over several years and be very gradual. In fact, you might not notice it is happening. You may have trouble understanding people, especially in a crowded setting.

If you experience some of these symptoms, you may need to be checked for a possible hearing loss:

  • Earache
  • Feeling of fullness in the ear
  • Gradual hearing loss with age
  • Gradual hearing loss in one ear only
  • Ringing in one ear
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Pain, reduced hearing, fluid sensation in ear
  • Having difficulty understanding conversation in a group
  • Increasing the volume of radio and TV
  • Trouble hearing on the telephone
  • Asking people to repeat themselve
  • Thinking people mumble when they speak
  • Becoming more impatient, irritable, frustrated, or withdrawn
  • Avoiding social occasions, family gatherings, and noisy environments

What causes hearing loss?

Noise exposure and aging are the most common causes of hearing loss. Other possible causes of hearing loss include:

  • Heredity
  • Ear infections, meningitis, or other diseases
  • Trauma
  • Medicines
  • Tumor pressing on the hearing nerve
  • Chemical exposures
  • Earwax

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