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Hearing Loss: Types of Hearing Loss & How to Treat and Prevent

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Last updated October 16, 2020

Hearing loss questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out what's causing your hearing loss.

Understand your hearing loss symptoms, including 10 causes & treatment options for your hearing loss.

Hearing loss questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out what's causing your hearing loss.

Hearing loss symptom checker

Hearing loss symptoms

"What did you say?" If you find yourself asking this question more than once a day, it's time to evaluate your hearing capabilities. If you're always turning up the television or wondering why everyone is whispering around you, there's a good chance you're experiencing hearing loss.

Hearing loss can become a permanent disability if left untreated. Diagnosing the symptoms right away is the only way to get proper medical attention.

The symptoms of hearing loss may differ based on the kind of hearing loss, its cause, and the degree of severity.

Common characteristics of hearing loss

Generally, people may experience one or more of the following hearing loss symptoms:

  • Unable to easily understand daily conversation
  • Having to increase the TV or radio volume level
  • Asking others to repeat themselves more often
  • Avoiding of social events that they used to enjoy
  • Difficulty communicating in noisy places
  • Ringing or buzzing sounds in the ears

Hearing is a detailed process. Sound waves enter the ear and travel to the eardrum through the ear canal. The eardrum vibrates and sends the vibrations to the incus, stapes, and malleus, which are three small bones in the middle ear. These vibrations reach the fluid of the cochlea inside the inner ear, sending out a wave that affects sensory cells. As these cells move, electrical signals are created which are carried to the brain. The initial sound waves then become recognizable to the listener.

But when hearing loss occurs, those sound waves never reach the brain the way they were intended to. We either don't hear at all or hear only muffled sounds that aren't recognizable.

Hearing loss causes

Hearing loss symptoms can be due to several causes. The most common ones are grouped and listed below.

Medical-related hearing loss causes

Causes of hearing loss related to certain medical conditions include the following.

  • Otosclerosis: This disease affects the movement of the bones in the middle ear. This can be treated by surgery.
  • Meniere's Disease: Primarily affecting people ages 30 to 50, this condition impacts the inner ear causing hearing loss, vertigo, tinnitus, and sensitivity to loud noises.

Traumatic hearing loss causes

Hearing loss related to trauma may include the following.

  • Head injury/Ear trauma: A physical head injury can damage the eardrum or inner workings of the ear resulting in temporary or permanent hearing loss.
  • Barotrauma: Sudden major changes in outside air pressure, such as during diving or flying.

Infectious hearing loss causes

These conditions are some of the most common infections that can cause hearing loss:

Other hearing loss causes

Other causes of hearing loss may include the following.

  • Medications: Some drugs are known to be ototoxic. Some of the most common ones include aminoglycosides antibiotics like streptomycin. Aspirin and some diuretics can also cause hearing loss when taken in large quantities. Chemotherapy drugs are on the list as well.
  • Loud noise: Noise-induced hearing loss develops gradually and is normally painless. Exposure to extremely loud sounds such as an explosion may cause hearing loss.
  • Presbycusis: This is hearing loss related to aging. It affects both ears later in life. Speech also starts to sound muffled, since a person's ability to hear high-pitched sounds is the first to be affected.
  • Earwax blockage: A blockage in the ears can cause temporary hearing loss.

Chronic ear infection (suppurative otitis media)

Chronic Suppurative Otitis Media is persistent drainage from the middle ear due to a damaged membrane. It is considered chronic when it lasts for more than 6 weeks.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: ear canal pain, pus leaking from the ear, hearing loss in one ear

Symptoms that always occur with chronic ear infection (suppurative otitis media):pus leaking from the ear

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Earwax blockage

Ear wax production is a normal process, as the body makes wax to protect the ear from infection. Sometimes ear wax can build up and cover the eardrum, which is a thin layer of skin that stretches across the end of the ear canal and picks up sound from outside. Ear wax buildup has nothing to do with poor hygiene, and it is not possible to prevent a build-up by washing.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: dizziness, dry cough, ear canal pain, ear fullness/pressure, ringing in the ears

Symptoms that never occur with earwax blockage: swollen ear, fever

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Hearing loss questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out what's causing your hearing loss.

Hearing loss symptom checker

Middle ear infection

Middle ear infection, also called acute otitis media, is a bacterial or viral infection of the air-filled space behind the eardrum. An ear infection is usually secondary to a cold, allergy, or influenza.

Young children are most susceptible due to weaker immune systems and to the small size and shape of the Eustachian tubes in the ears. Children in group care settings are more exposed to colds and flu and therefore more prone to ear infections.

Symptoms include ear pain due to inflammation; drainage of fluid from the ear; and sometimes hearing difficulty. Children may cry, run a fever, and pull at the affected ear.

If symptoms last more than a day, a medical provider should be seen. Long-lasting or repeated ear infections can lead to hearing damage and to speech and learning problems.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination.

Middle ear infections often clear up on their own and antibiotics may only be needed for infants and severe cases. Warm compresses and over-the-counter pain relievers can be used. Do not give aspirin to children.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, sore throat, new headache, fever, ear canal pain

Symptoms that always occur with middle ear infection: ear canal pain

Symptoms that never occur with middle ear infection: vertigo (extreme dizziness), face weakness, facial numbness

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is also known as adult-onset diabetes, because it is the result of lifestyle and is not hereditary. Diabetes of any type is the condition where the body does not produce enough insulin to process the sugars in food.

Risk factors include obesity, overeating high-carbohydrate foods, lack of exercise, pregnancy, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS.)

Early symptoms include increased thirst; frequent urination; weight loss despite increased appetite; blurred vision; infections that are slow to heal; and blood sugar somewhat higher than normal.

It is important to get treatment at the first sign of these symptoms, because the high blood sugar levels can cause serious organ damage. Heart disease, neuropathy, kidney damage, and blindness can all result from untreated diabetes.

Diagnosis is made through a series of blood tests to measure blood sugar levels.

Type 2 diabetes cannot be cured, but it can be managed through lifestyle changes. A diet which eliminates refined carbohydrates and controls calories; regular exercise; regular blood sugar monitoring; and sometimes insulin or other medications will all be recommended.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, increased appetite compared to normal, vision changes, feeling itchy or tingling all over, excessive thirst

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Chronic earwax blockage

Earwax production is a normal process, as the body makes wax to protect the ear from infection. Sometimes ear wax can build up and cover the eardrum which is a thin layer of skin that stretches across the end of the ear canal and picks up sound from outside.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: dizziness, dry cough, ear canal pain, ringing in the ears, ear fullness/pressure

Symptoms that always occur with chronic earwax blockage: ear canal pain

Symptoms that never occur with chronic earwax blockage: swollen ear, fever

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Traumatic brain injury

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) happens when a bump, blow, jolt, or other head injury causes damage to the brain.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: new headache, irritability, clear runny nose, vision changes, general numbness

Symptoms that always occur with traumatic brain injury: head injury

Urgency: Emergency medical service

Paget disease of the bone

Paget disease of bone is also called PDB, osteitis deformans, or osteodystrophica deformans. It is normal for bone cells to renew themselves throughout life, but in PDB the renewal becomes disordered. New bone cells are produced too quickly, causing the bones to become weakened and overgrown.

The cause of PDB is not known. It may be due to an inherited trait combined with certain viral infections.

Symptoms include enlargement, bowing, and abnormal curving of the bones, with pain and tenderness. The skull, pelvis, spine, and upper arms and thighs are most often affected. However, many patients have no symptoms and the condition is discovered while assessing something else.

If not treated, Paget disease of bone can lead to bone deformity; fractures; osteoarthritis; and hearing loss due to changes in the small bones within the ear.

Diagnosis is made through blood tests and an x-ray or CT scan.

There is no cure, but symptoms can be managed with medication, pain relievers, physical therapy, and sometimes surgery.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: new headache, pelvis pain, back pain, spontaneous bone pain, moderate hip pain

Symptoms that always occur with paget disease of the bone: spontaneous bone pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Burst ear drum

The ear drum is a thin membrane that vibrates as sound hits it, transmitting that vibration into signals that the brain understands! When it bursts, your hearing is affected. It typically happens after some force to the ear drum, such as a blow to the ear, an exploding firecracker, a fall onto water, or even a sharp object in the ear.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: ear canal pain, constant ear pain, ringing in the ears, vertigo (extreme dizziness), hearing loss

Symptoms that always occur with burst ear drum: ear canal pain, recent ear injury, constant ear pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Bell's palsy

Bell’s palsy can present as acute or chronic facial paralysis. This paralysis is usually sudden in onset and worsens over the course of 48 hours. Resolution of symptoms usually occurs within two weeks to six months but permanent paralysis can rarely occur. Symptoms of this condition are a result of the paralysis of facial muscles. This paralysis usually occurs only on one side of the face. The cause of Bell’s palsy is inflammation or damage to the facial nerve, also known as cranial nerve VII. This nerve controls the muscles of the face. Treatment is aimed at reducing inflammation or targeting the underlying cause of facial nerve paralysis.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: arm weakness, facial numbness, arm weakness, hearing loss, pain on one side of the face

Symptoms that always occur with bell's palsy: face weakness, weakness in one side of the face

Urgency: Primary care doctor


Hypothyroidism, or "underactive thyroid," means that the thyroid gland in the neck does not produce enough of its hormones. This causes a slowing of the body's metabolism.

The condition can occur due to autoimmune disease; any surgery or radiation treatment to the thyroid gland; some medications; pregnancy; or consuming too much or too little iodine. It is often found among older women with a family history of the disease.

Common symptoms include fatigue, constantly feeling cold, weight gain, slow heart rate, and depression. If left untreated, these and other symptoms can worsen until they lead to very low blood pressure and body temperature, and even coma.

Diagnosis is made through a simple blood test.

Hypothyroidism is easily managed with daily oral medication. The patient usually starts feeling better after a couple of weeks and may even lose some extra weight. It's important for the patient to be monitored by a doctor and have routine blood testing so that the medication can be kept at the correct levels.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, muscle aches

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Hearing loss treatments and relief

It's always recommended to have your hearing loss evaluated as soon as you or your loved ones begin to notice symptoms.

Severe hearing loss can make you feel as if you're no longer fully present during activities and daily events. Even if your hearing loss is irreversible, there are ways to improve your hearing and get back to the life you enjoy.

When to see a doctor

Hearing loss treatment depends on the cause and degree of severity.

  • Removal of ear blockage: Earwax is a treatable cause of hearing loss symptoms. A professional can help you remove your earwax using an oil followed by flushing and suctioning.
  • Surgery: This is needed if you experienced a traumatic injury or have repeated infections.
  • Hearing aids: If your inner ear is damaged, a hearing aid may be necessary.
  • Cochlear implant: Severe cases of hearing loss normally require an implant that compensates for the damaged parts of the inner ear.

Hearing loss questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out what's causing your hearing loss.

Hearing loss symptom checker

When it is an emergency

Seek immediate treatment if you experience any of the following hearing loss symptoms:

  • Hearing loss with injury to the head
  • Sudden hearing loss, especially in only one ear
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty standing
  • Vision problems
  • Severe pain


Consider the following preventative measures if you're noticing the beginning of hearing loss symptoms.

  • Use ear protection around loud noises
  • Do not put foreign objects in your ears
  • Never use cotton swabs to clean the ear canals
  • Cotton balls and liquids are prohibited: Unless instructed by a physician
  • Treat infections of the ears immediately: Also, if there is water in the middle ear, it should be drained right away.
  • Medication use: If you are taking drugs that may cause hearing loss symptoms, visit your doctor for monitoring.

FAQs about hearing loss

What causes hearing loss?

Your ear is divided into three parts: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The outer ear is everything you can see from the outside, which conducts sound to the middle ear. In the middle ear, sound hits a membrane which vibrates three tiny bones. These bones vibrate the inner ear, where the vibrations are turned into nerve signals sent to the brain. Damage or obstruction of any of these structures can lead to hearing loss. This may be caused by earwax build-up, infection, traumatic injury, tumors, barotrauma (trauma due to changes in air or water pressure), systemic disease, toxic substances, or stroke. Additionally, exposure to loud noises can lead to hearing loss, as well as normal aging.

What is sensorineural hearing loss?

The "sensorineural" portion of your ear is the deepest portion of your ear canal, which contains both “sensors” and “nerves.” Your outer ear transmits sounds from the outside world to your inner ear, where specialized cells, the “sensors,” convert them into signals your brain can understand. These signals are carried to the brain by nerves. Damage to this system of sensors and nerves leads to sensorineural hearing loss.

Can ear infections cause hearing loss?

Yes, infections can cause hearing loss. When you have an ear infection, the resultant swelling, fluids, and debris may obstruct the ear canal and block transmission of sounds to the inner ear. These same fluids may also prevent adequate vibration of the tiny bones and membranes in your ear, blocking noise transmission. Rarely, some infections can damage the sensory cells deep in the ear leading to hearing loss.

What are the types of hearing loss?

Hearing loss is divided into three categories: sensorineural, conductive, and mixed. Sensorineural hearing loss is when there is damage to the cells deep in your ear that turn noise into a signal your brain can understand or damage to the nerves that bring these signals to the brain. Conductive hearing loss is when there is physical damage or obstruction of the bony and membranous structures in the ear that transmit soundwaves to inner ear, where the sensory cells are located. Mixed hearing loss is when there is both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss.

What causes loss of hearing in one ear?

Most of the things that cause loss of hearing in both ears can lead to loss of hearing in one ear if they happen only on one side. Traumatic injury, infection, tumors, earwax buildup, or stroke may lead to one-sided hearing loss. Aging and exposure to toxins or loud noises usually lead to hearing loss on both sides.

Questions your doctor may ask about hearing loss

  • Have you been experiencing dizziness?
  • Do you hear a ringing or whistling sound no one else hears?
  • Are you experiencing a headache?
  • Did you faint?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

Hearing loss statistics

People who have experienced hearing loss have also experienced:

  • 5% Ear Fullness/Pressure
  • 5% Ear Canal Pain
  • 5% Ringing In The Ears

People who have experienced hearing loss were most often matched with:

  • 44% Middle Ear Infection
  • 33% Chronic Ear Infection (Suppurative Otitis Media)
  • 22% Earwax Blockage

People who have experienced hearing loss had symptoms persist for:

  • 36% Less than a day
  • 25% Over a month
  • 22% Less than a week

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).

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Rochel specializes in writing for health, dental and orthodontist industry. She has written several eBooks that have ranked number one in their category. Rochel received her BA from College of Lake County.

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  1. Age-Related Hearing Loss (Presbycusis). Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library. Johns Hopkins Medicine Link
  2. Causes of Hearing Loss in Children. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. ASHA Link
  3. Holt JJ. Cholesteatoma and otosclerosis: two slowly progressive causes of hearing loss treatable through corrective surgery. Clin Med Res. 2003;1(2):151-4. NCBI Link
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  8. Stroke Signs and Symptoms. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reviewed March 27, 2018. CDC Link