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Hearing Loss

A general term for the complete or partial loss of the ability to hear from one or both ears.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Library of Medicine)

About Hearing Loss

People who are affected by hearing loss (a hearing impairment) are unable to hear speech and sounds properly. If they can hardly hear anything, or cannot hear anything at all, they are considered to be "deaf." Deaf people may be able to hear a few sounds, but cannot understand speech.

Although hearing loss and deafness affect people of all age groups, these problems are particularly common in older people. Hearing loss can be caused by various things. It may be permanent or temporary, already present at birth, or develop following an illness. The type of treatment, things you can do about it yourself, and ways of coping with it in everyday life are also different depending on the type and severity of hearing loss.

The treatment options include hearing aids, speech therapy approaches and cochlear implants (electronic hearing devices)... Read more about Hearing Loss

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Vasodilators and vasoactive substances for idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss

Idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss (ISSHL) is sudden hearing loss where clinical assessment fails to reveal a cause. Hearing loss may vary from partial to total loss, and is usually accompanied by tinnitus. It has been frequently considered that ISSHL may have a vascular origin (i.e. is related to the blood circulatory system) and vasodilators and rheological substances are widely used as treatments. Vasodilators are drugs which widen blood vessels and thus improve blood flow. Vasoactive/rheological substances increase flow through blood vessels in other ways (such as by altering the viscosity of fluid). We found three trials, involving 189 participants, which showed improvement in hearing thresholds in those treated with vasodilators compared to control groups. However, as the number of patients included in the studies was small, and there were differences in the type, dosage and duration of vasodilator treatment used in each of these studies, the results could not be combined to reach a conclusion. The effectiveness of vasodilators in the treatment of ISSHL could not be proven. Further research is needed. 

Hyperbaric oxygen for sudden hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) of unknown cause

Idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss (ISSHL) is common and often results in permanent hearing loss. It therefore has a high impact on the well‐being of those affected. Tinnitus (abnormal persistent noises or ringing in the ear) is similarly common and often accompanies the hearing loss. Although the cause of these complaints is not clear, they may be related to a lack of oxygen secondary to a vascular problem not yet identified. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) involves breathing pure oxygen in a specially designed chamber and it is sometimes used as a treatment to increase the supply of oxygen to the ear and brain in an attempt to reduce the severity of hearing loss and tinnitus.

Steroids for the treatment of sudden hearing loss with unknown cause

A sudden onset of hearing loss due to disease of the hearing organs is a medical emergency and requires prompt recognition and treatment. In addition to the hearing impairment, patients may also suffer from symptoms of tinnitus (background ringing noise), a sensation of ear fullness and dizziness. In many instances medical specialists are able to find the cause and treat the hearing impairment. However, in a large proportion of patients, no known cause of the sudden hearing loss can be found. Steroids are commonly used to treat patients with sudden hearing loss of an unknown origin. The specific action of the steroids in the hearing apparatus is uncertain. It is possible that the steroid treatment improves hearing because of its ability to reduce inflammation and oedema (swelling) in the hearing organs. The review of the trials showed a lack of good‐quality evidence for the effectiveness of steroids in the treatment of sudden hearing loss of an unknown origin. The quality of the trials was generally low and more research is needed.

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Summaries for consumers

Hearing loss and deafness: Overview

In Germany and other countries, it is routine practice to test the hearing of newborn babies, to be able to diagnose and treat hearing problems early on. This can help improve language development in hearing-impaired children.

Hearing loss and deafness: Normal hearing and impaired hearing

The actual organ of hearing is the cochlea in the inner ear. The cochlea receives sound waves and passes them on to the brain. This works smoothly in people with normal hearing. The ears receive sound waves and change them into signals which are sent along nerves to the brain. The brain then analyzes the signals, recognizes them as sounds and interprets them – for instance, as soft music, loud honking or human voices.Sound waves are created when an object moves, for example when a guitar string or speaker cone vibrates. Whether we hear a sound depends both on the power of the sound (“sound level” or “sound pressure level”) as well as on the frequency (or “pitch”) of the vibration.

Hearing loss and deafness: Hearing tests in newborns: Are there advantages?

Doing screening tests in all newborns makes it possible to diagnose and treat hearing problems sooner. This can improve language development in children who have hearing problems.

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Terms to know

Auditory Neuropathy
Hearing disorder in which sound enters the inner ear normally, but is impaired when signals move from the inner ear to the brain.
Cochlear Implant
Medical device that bypasses damaged structures in the inner ear and directly stimulates the auditory nerve.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Hearing loss caused by dysfunction of the outer or middle ear.
Deafness
The inability to hear in one or both ears.
Ear
A sense organ needed for the detection of sound and for establishing balance.
Hearing Aids
Electronic device that brings amplified sound to the ear. A hearing aid usually consists of a microphone, amplifier, and receiver.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Hearing loss resulting from either chronic exposure to loud noises, or exposure to extremely loud bursts of noise.
Presbycusis (Age-Related Hearing Loss)
Loss of hearing that gradually occurs because of changes in the inner or middle ear in individuals as they grow older.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Hearing loss caused by damage to the sensory cells and/or nerve fibers of the inner ear.
Sudden Deafness (Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss)
Loss of hearing that occurs quickly due to such causes as explosion, a viral infection, or the use of some drugs.

More about Hearing Loss

Photo of an adult woman

Also called: Difficulty hearing, Hard of hearing, Hearing impaired, Hearing impairment, Impaired hearing, Hypoacusis, HI, HL, HOH

Other terms to know: See all 10
Auditory Neuropathy, Cochlear Implant, Conductive Hearing Loss

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