Hearing Loss (Hearing Impairment)

Hearing impairment is a common disability that affects more than 250 million people worldwide. In the United States the most common cause of hearing impairment is age-related. Age-related hearing loss is permanent.

The consequences of hearing loss on daily life are profound, impacting social, functional and psychological well-being. Mild hearing loss can impair the ability to distinguish high-pitched sounds including voices. In children, hearing loss can affect the child’s speech, language and social development.

Hearing loss impacts the ability to converse and exchange information at work and at home, causes misunderstandings, interferes with participating in social events and creating relationships, causes difficulty following directions, hearing alarms, and can result in social isolation, dependence, frustration, anxiety and depression. Hearing loss also affects those around you.

Hearing loss may be mild, moderate, severe or profound. The loss may be in one ear or both. It may happen before speech development or after. It may be the same in both ears or different. It may fluctuate or be stable. It may be sudden or progressive. Hearing loss may be present at birth or it may be acquired later in life.

What are the types of hearing loss?

  • Sensorineural hearing loss. This is the most common type of hearing loss. It is permanent hearing loss that occurs when there is damage to the inner ear or the auditory nerve. It may be due to age, genetics, chronic exposure to loud noise, disease or medications. Sudden hearing loss is a medical emergency.
  • Conductive hearing loss. This type occurs when there is a blockage that prevents sound waves from reaching the inner ear. The blockage may be the result of earwax buildup, fluid in the middle ear or a punctured eardrum. It can be treated medically and/or surgically.
  • Mixed hearing loss is a combination of Conductive and Sensorineural hearing loss.

What are the symptoms?

Mild hearing loss may make it difficult to hear soft sounds. Moderate hearing loss may make it difficult to hear any speech. Severe hearing loss means you may be unable to hear speech but may be able to hear some loud sounds. Profound hearing loss is deafness.

Age-related hearing loss

About one third of Americans between the ages of 65 – 75 have some degree of hearing loss. 50% of people over age 75 have hearing loss. Signs and symptoms typically begin gradually between the ages of 65-75.

Some health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure can contribute to hearing loss. Ear infections, a heart condition, stroke, injury and a tumor can affect hearing. Some medications, like chemotherapy, can permanently damage the inner ear. Some antibiotics are toxic to the hearing apparatus.

Hearing loss in children

50% of hearing loss in babies is genetic. Infections during pregnancy, complications after birth and head trauma are responsible for 20% of hearing loss in children. About 15% of children ages 6-19 have some degree of hearing loss.

Symptoms in babies:

  • A baby who doesn’t startle with loud noises such as clapping
  • A baby who doesn’t turn toward the source of sound by age 6 months
  • A baby who doesn’t not say a single word by age 1
  • A baby who turns her head when she sees you but not when you call her name.

Symptoms in children:

  • Delayed speech
  • Unclear speech
  • Not following directions
  • High volumes on electronic devices
  • Delayed developmental milestones

How is hearing loss diagnosed in children?


Babies should be screened no later than one month of age. If a baby fails a hearing screening they should be retested before 3 months of age. Intervention should begin no later than 6 months of age. Children who fail a hearing test should have a complete audiology evaluation.

How is hearing loss treated?

Treatment depends on the cause.

  • Hearing aids amplify sound (make sounds louder). They are worn in the ear and can be quite small.
  • Cochlear implants are small electronic devices for severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss. They are surgically implanted. The implant sends sound signals through the auditory nerve fibers in the cochlea to the brain. It is appropriate to consider this option in people whose hearing loss is to the point where they are unable to understand speech even with a hearing aid.
  • Bone anchored hearing aids are implantable aids that help pass sound through the bone behind the ear. It is used for people with sever conductive hearing loss, single sided deafness, or for people with mixed hearing loss who cannot us a conventional hearing aid.

The best way to determine the extent of your hearing loss and all of your options is to schedule a consultation at Fayetteville Otolaryngologist.

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