Key Points about Hearing Loss

  • Hearing loss commonly affects adults over the age of 65 but can also be caused by injuries or other health conditions.
  • ENT doctors use various types of hearing tests to diagnose the extent and type of hearing loss, which can help your doctor recommend a treatment plan.
  • If you have hearing loss, your treatment plan may include removing earwax, being fitted for hearing aids or other options.

Overview

Having trouble hearing other people in everyday life can be frustrating. Hearing loss may come on gradually, as with aging, or may be caused suddenly by an injury. While hearing loss cannot be reversed, there are many steps your doctor can take to improve hearing quality and the ability to effectively communicate.

Hearing loss causes

Hearing loss is caused by a number of factors, including:

  • Abnormal bone growths or tumors
  • Acute (sudden) injuries
  • Aging
  • Ear infection
  • Earwax buildup
  • Nerve or inner ear damage
  • Overexposure to loud noises
  • Ruptured eardrum

Hearing loss risk factors

You may be at risk for developing hearing loss if you:

  • Are exposed to loud occupational noises at your job
  • Are over the age of 65
  • Have a history of meningitis
  • Have been repeatedly exposed to loud noises
  • Have a family history of hearing loss
  • Take certain medicines, such as the antibiotic gentamicin, Viagra and some chemotherapy medications

Hearing loss symptoms

The signs and symptoms of hearing loss can include:

  • A desire to avoid certain social situations in which hearing others can be difficult
  • A need to turn up the volume of music or television in order to hear
  • Frequently asking others to repeat themselves, or to speak more loudly or more slowly
  • Speech that sounds muffled
  • Trouble hearing consonants
  • Trouble understanding others’ speech, especially when there’s a lot of background noise

Hearing loss diagnosis

An ENT doctor may use one or more of the following tools to diagnose your hearing loss:

  • Physical examination — Your ENT doctor will perform a complete physical exam, and ask you questions about your health history in general and your hearing loss specifically.
  • Hearing tests — Your ENT doctor may order one or more types of hearing tests, which can help determine the extent and type of your hearing loss.

Hearing loss treatment

Your ENT specialist may use one or more of the following treatments to help manage your hearing loss:

  • Earwax removal — If your ENT doctor determines that excessive earwax may be causing your hearing loss, he or she may remove the earwax using suction or a small tool with a loop on it.
  • Hearing aids — Your ENT doctor may recommend you use a hearing aid to help you better hear the world around you.
  • Cochlear implants — If your hearing loss is severe, your ENT doctor may recommend you receive a cochlear implant, which is an implanted device that connects the ear to the brain to help boost your hearing.
  • If your ENT doctor determines that an abnormality of the eardrum or bones within the ear is the cause of your hearing loss, he or she may recommend surgery to correct the problem.

When to seek care

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest you see an ENT doctor for more specialized treatment.