Skip Navigation
NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health

Feature:
Hearing Loss

Managing Hearing Loss

Types of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss comes in many forms. It can range from a mild loss in which a person misses certain high-pitched sounds, such as the voices of women and children, to a total loss of hearing. It can be hereditary or it can result from disease, trauma, certain medications, or long-term exposure to loud noises.

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear or the auditory nerve. This type of hearing loss is usually permanent.

Approximately 15 percent of American adults ages 18 and over (37.5 million) report some trouble hearing.

Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound waves cannot reach the inner ear. The cause may be earwax build-up, fluid, or a punctured eardrum. Medical treatment or surgery can usually restore conductive hearing loss.

A common problem is age-related hearing loss (presbycusis), which gradually occurs in many people as they grow older. Approximately one in three people in the United States between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing. Having trouble hearing can make it hard to understand and follow a doctor's advice, respond to warnings, and hear phones, doorbells, and smoke alarms. Hearing loss can also make it hard to enjoy talking with family and friends.

Age-related hearing loss is gradual, so you may not realize that you've lost some of your ability to hear. There are many causes of age-related hearing loss. Most commonly, it arises from complex changes along the nerve pathways from the ear to the brain.

Many people may have a combination of both noise-induced hearing loss and hearing loss from aging. Noise-induced hearing loss can be prevented by lowering the volume, moving away from the noise, or wearing hearing protectors, such as earplugs or earmuffs.

Hearing Loss Can Lead to Other Problems

Some people may not want to admit they have trouble hearing. Older people who can't hear well may become depressed or may withdraw from others to avoid feeling frustrated or embarrassed about not understanding what is being said. Sometimes, older people are mistakenly thought to be confused, unresponsive, or uncooperative just because they don't hear well.

Hearing problems that are ignored or untreated can get worse. If you have a hearing problem, you can get help. See your doctor. Hearing aids, special training, certain medicines, and surgery are some of the choices that can help people with hearing problems, but they are not a cure.

Spring 2015 Issue: Volume 10 Number 1 Page 8