Hearing Loss Overview

There are many different causes of deafness. Some people develop an infectious disease like spinal meningitis, or are given medications for a severe illness and end up deaf as a side-effect of that medicine, or develop Meniere’s syndrome. If you want more information about this, please click here.


In conductive hearing loss, disorders in either the outer or middle ear prevent sound from passing into the inner ear. Voices and sounds may sound faint, distorted, or both. Conductive hearing losses are most often seen in young children, but they can also be seen in some adults. Most conductive hearing loss can be improved medically or surgically if treated promptly.

Causes of conductive hearing loss include:
– Infection of the ear canal or middle ear
– Fluid in the middle ear
– Perforation or scarring of the eardrum
– Ear wax (cerumen) build-up
– Dislocation of the three middle-ear bones, called ossicles
– Foreign objects in the ear canal
– Otosclerosis (abnormal growth of bone in the middle ear)
– Unusual growths in the outer or middle ear

Meniere’s disease is an abnormality of the inner ear causing a host of symptoms, including vertigo or severe dizziness, tinnitus or a roaring sound in the ears, fluctuating hearing loss, and the sensation of pressure or pain in the affected ear. The disorder usually affects only one ear and is a common cause of hearing loss. Named after French physician Prosper Meniere who first described the syndrome in 1861.
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Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL), or sudden deafness, is a rapid loss of hearing. SSHL can happen to a person all at once or over a period of up to 3 days. It should be considered a medical emergency. A person who experiences SSHL should visit a doctor immediately.

A doctor can determine whether a person has experienced SSHL by conducting a normal hearing test. If a loss of at least 30 decibels in three connected frequencies is discovered, it is diagnosed as SSHL. A decibel is a measure of sound. A decibel level of 30 is half as loud as a normal conversation. A frequency is another way of measuring sound. Frequencies measure sound waves and help to determine what makes one sound different from another sound.

Hearing loss affects only one ear in nine out of ten people who experience SSHL. Many people notice it when they wake up in the morning. Others first notice it when they try to use the deafened ear, such as when they make a phone call. Still others notice a loud, alarming “pop” just before their hearing disappears. People with SSHL often experience dizziness or a ringing in their ears (tinnitus), or both.

Some patients recover completely without medical intervention, often within the first three days. This is called a spontaneous recovery. Others get better slowly over a one- or two-week period. Although a good to excellent recovery is likely, 15 percent of those with SSHL experience a hearing loss that gets worse over time.

Approximately 4,000 new cases of SSHL occur each year in the United States. It can affect anyone, but for unknown reasons it happens most often to people between the ages of 30 and 60.

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In people who have sensorineural hearing loss, sound is efficiently sent to the inner ear, but some sort of damage to the inner ear interferes with proper hearing. This type of hearing loss occurs when there is either damage to the inner ear structures or the hearing nerve.

Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss among adults. It usually is not medically or surgically treatable, but can be treated successfully with hearing aids. Those who suffer from sensorineural hearing loss may complain that people seem to mumble, or that they hear – but don’t understand what is being said. Aging is the most common cause of sensorineural hearing loss. As we get older, the sensory cells of the inner ear gradually die.

In addition to advancing age, sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by:
– Injury
– Excessive noise exposure
– Viral infections (such as measles or mumps)
– Ototoxic drugs (medications that damage hearing)
– Meningitis
– Diabetes
– Stroke
– High fever
– Meniere’s disease
– Acoustic Neuroma (tumors)

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Neurofibromatosis encompasses a set of distinct genetic disorders that cause tumors to grow along various types of nerves and, in addition, can affect the development of non-nervous tissues such as bones and skin. Neurofibromatosis causes tumors to grow anywhere on or in the body.

Neurofibromatosis 2 (NF2): also known as Bilateral Acoustic NF (BAN) is much rarer, occurring in 1:25,000 births. NF2 is characterized by multiple tumors on the cranial and spinal nerves, and by other lesions of the brain and spinal cord. Tumors affecting both of the auditory nerves are the hallmark. Hearing loss beginning in the teens or early twenties is generally the first symptom.

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Cogan’s syndrome is a rare, rheumatic disease characterized by inflammation of the ears and eyes. Cogan’s syndrome can lead to vision difficulty, hearing loss and dizziness. The condition may also be associated with blood-vessel inflammation (called vasculitis) in other areas of the body that can cause major organ damage or, in a small number of cases, even death. It most commonly occurs in a person’s 20s or 30s. The cause is not known. However, one theory is that it is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks tissue in the eye and ear.

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