What Is Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss is the sudden or gradual loss of the ability to hear over time. Hearing loss can result from normal aging, noise exposure, ear trauma or underlying medical conditions.
As part of aging, gradual loss of inner ear hair cells can occur, causing hearing loss. Nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain can also gradually deteriorate, damaging the ability to hear. Hearing loss can also occur in response to other factors.
There are three main types of hearing loss, including:
Conductive hearing loss — the loss of hearing due to structural problems in the ear canal, ear drum, middle ear or small bones in the ear.
Mixed hearing loss — a combination of conductive damage to the outer ear and nerve damage in the inner ear.
Sensorineural hearing loss — hearing loss due to issues of the inner ear, mainly inner ear hair cell loss.
Gradual hearing loss symptoms vary from person to person, and may be difficult to recognize at first. Hearing loss also may result in other problems, such as difficulty with social interactions. The most common symptoms of hearing loss are:
Difficulty hearing — Those suffering from hearing loss can find it difficult to understand what people say or may ask for information to be repeated.
Difficulty in conversations — Individuals with hearing loss may have trouble following conversations when more than one person speaks at a time.
Tinnitus — As hearing worsens, some people hear a ringing, buzzing or hissing sound in the ears.
Hearing loss can dramatically impact overall quality of life. However, many treatments are available for hearing loss. The appropriate treatment depends largely on a person’s specific type of hearing loss. Prior to beginning treatment, hearing specialists work with patients to discover the underlying cause of hearing loss and develop care plans to address the cause and help restore hearing. Available options include:
Hearing aids — Hearing aids, which are used to amplify sounds so they can be more easily heard, can be used successfully for the treatment of hearing loss.
Medication — Corticosteroids, antibiotics or antifungal medications may be prescribed to treat chronic ear infections, which may contribute to hearing loss.
Surgery — Cochlear implant surgery can be a very successful treatment for people who have severe inner ear hearing loss. Surgery may also be conducted to repair structural problems in the ear, such as defects in the ear canal, which can also lead to hearing loss.
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