Read below about hearing loss, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your hearing loss from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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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.

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

  • Cannot easily understand daily conversation
  • Having to increase the TV or radio volume level
  • Asking others to repeat themselves more often
  • Avoidance of social events that they used to like
  • 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, three bones in the middle ear. The vibrations reach the fluid of the cochlea inside the inner ear, sending out a wave that effects sensory cells. As they move, electrical signals are created which are carried to the brain. The initial sound waves become recognizable.

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 muffled sounds that aren't recognizable.

Hearing Loss Causes Overview

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

Medical hearing loss causes:

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

Trauma hearing loss causes:

  • 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 and large changes in outside air pressure such as during diving or flying.

Infectious hearing loss causes:

  • Measles, mumps, syphilis, and meningitis: These conditions are some of the most common infections that can cause hearing loss.

Other hearing loss causes:

  • 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 like an explosion may cause hearing loss.
  • Presbycusis: Hearing loss related to aging. It affects both ears later in life. Speech also starts to muffle since people's ability to hear high pitch sounds is the first to be affected.
  • Earwax blockage: A blockage in the ears can cause temporary hearing loss.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Hearing Loss

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced hearing loss. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.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.

    6 to 12 weeks or more

    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
  2. 2.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.

    Condition likely will go away on its own after 5 days without treatment. However, with pain, dizziness, or feelings of fullness, the earwax should be removed.

    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
  3. 3.Middle Ear Infection

    Middle ear infections, also known as otitis media, occur when the tubes that carry sound become clogged with debris like mucus.

    With proper treatment, middle ear infections generally resolve within a week.

    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
  4. 4.Type 2 Diabetes

    Diabetes causes that blood glucose (blood sugar) levels to become high. With Type II Diabetes, the more common type, the body does not make or use insulin efficiently. Insulin is necessary to metabolize glucose.

    Type II Diabetes is a life-long condition but can be well managed.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, increased appetite compared to normal, vision changes, feeling itchy or tingling all over, excesive thirst
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.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.

    With treatment, the condition will resolve.

    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

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  6. 6.Traumatic Brain Injury

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

    Varies depending on severity

    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
  7. 7.Paget Disease of the Bone

    Paget's disease of the bone is a disorder in which the bone recycling process goes astray. It mostly affects people older than 55 years old. While many people with the disease have no symptoms, some suffer from bone pain, abnormal shapes of bone and weaker bones that can break more easily.

    Treatment depends on the severity of disease, however, this is a lifelong condition and treatment may become necessary as the disease progresses.

    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
  8. 8.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.

    Smaller perforations heal over days to weeks almost 100% of the time. Larger perforations may need a procedure. If healing doesn't happen in 8 weeks, surgery may be necessary.

    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
  9. 9.Bell's Palsy

    Bell's palsy (facial palsy) causes sudden weakness in facial muscles and makes half of the face appear to droop. The exact cause is unknown, but it's believed to be the result of swelling and inflammation of the nerve that controls the muscles on one side of your face or may be a reaction that occurs after a viral infection.

    Weeks to 6 months

    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
  10. 10.Hypothyroidism

    Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped organ inside the neck, no longer produces adequate levels of hormones. Thyroid hormones are essential for many bodily functions including breathing, heart rate, and metabolism.

    Most cases of hypothyroidism require lifelong hormone replacement therapy.

    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.

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 1 ear
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty standing
  • Vision problems
  • Severe pain

If you are suffering from hearing issues, help is available.

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.

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. If there is water in the middle ear, it should be drained right away.
  • If you are taking drugs that may cause hearing loss symptoms, visit your doctor for monitoring.

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 love.

FAQs About Hearing Loss

Here are some frequently asked questions 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, swelling, fluids, and debris may obstruct the ear canal, blocking 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

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

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our hearing loss symptom checker to find out more.

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Hearing Loss Symptom Checker 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 had symptoms persist for:

    • 36% Less Than a Day
    • 25% Over a Month
    • 22% Less Than a Week
  • 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
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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