What Is Hearing Loss? - SightMD Skip to main content

February 22, 2023

By: Gerri Competiello, AuD

What Is Hearing Loss?

male holding his ear

It’s the third most common health problem in the U.S, and it can affect the quality of your life and relationships. About 48 million Americans have lost some hearing.

You can have three different types of hearing loss, depending on where your hearing is damaged. Your hearing loss can be:

  • Conductive if it involves your outer or middle ear
  • Sensorineural if it involves your inner ear
  • Mixed if it involves a combination of the two

Certain conditions, including age, illness, and genetics, may play a role in hearing loss. With so many untreatable cases of hearing loss, prevention is the best way to keep hearing long-term.

Hearing Loss Causes

Loud noises frequently cause hearing loss. Sometimes this exposure is sudden and short-term such as attending a loud concert or being close to a gun blast while short this can still damage hearing. Long-term noise exposure affects many professions such as farmers, construction workers, musicians and military members making occupational hearing loss a top work-related illness in the U.S.

Other risk factors that raise your likelihood of hearing loss include:

  • Congenital conditions such as cytomegalovirus (CMV)
  • Coronary artery disease (heart disease), high blood pressure (hypertension) and strokes
  • Damage or trauma from an accident or injury — even something as simple as inserting a cotton swab too far into the ear
  • Diabetes
  • Ear infections, earwax buildup or ruptured eardrum
  • Exposure to chemicals
  • Family history of hearing loss
  • Medications to treat cancer, heart disease and infections
  • Tumors (acoustic neuroma)

Hearing Loss Diagnosis

To figure out how much of your hearing you’ve lost, your doctor can do the following tests:

  • Physical exam to look in your ear for earwax buildup, infection, or structural problems.
  • General screening tests that involve covering one ear at a time to see how well you hear spoken words at different volumes.
  • Tuning fork tests using two-pronged metal instruments that make a sound when you tap them. Your doctor can tell how well you hear them. The test can also help pinpoint where in your ear the hearing loss is.
  • Audiometer tests where you wear earphones and listen for sounds directed into your ear. This test is done by an audiologist and can measure the level of sound you can hear more accurately than other screening tests.

Hearing Loss Prevention

Hearing loss is often permanent, so do what you can to protect one of your most valuable natural assets. Wear earplugs when you’re around sounds as loud or louder than traffic. When possible, move away from the source of the noise. Be aware that recreational activities also come with high noise levels. If you know you’re going to be somewhere noisy, limit your time there and wear ear protection.

Treatment for Hearing Loss

Treatment for severe hearing loss usually means using different technology to improve the hearing you have. There’s no single therapy that’s best for every person with the condition. Your doctor will recommend one based on how much hearing you’ve lost, how healthy you are, your lifestyle, and how your ears were damaged.

Your treatment options include:

  • Hearing aids. They make low sounds louder or easier to hear. Some may help cut background noise.
  • Implants. Middle ear implants are devices that vibrate inside your ear. Your doctor will place them there for you. You can use them for long periods of time.

What to Expect with Hearing Loss

Severe hearing loss is different for everyone and it may affect you or your child for many years. But it doesn’t have to keep you from enjoying life and you should be able to live independently, go to school or college, and have a career with severe hearing loss. Contact our team of audiologists at SightMD to find treatments and strategies that work best for you. It’s important to diagnose and treat severe hearing loss as soon as possible. The sooner you or your child can begin therapy, the better you’ll be able to adapt.