Q. What causes hearing loss?
Hearing loss can be caused by several different things. The most common type, technically called presbycusis, means that aging or genetics are causing your hearing to slowly decline over time, similar to many people's experience with their eyesight.
You could also experience noise-induced hearing loss. Just like it sounds, this type of hearing loss is a result of over-exposure to loud sounds. Read more about noise-induced hearing loss here.
Some less common causes of hearing loss include high blood pressure, diabetes, medicinal reactions, and more. You should always consult your hearing healthcare provider if you think you may be experiencing hearing loss due to a medical condition.
Q. How common is hearing loss?
According to current statistics, hearing loss affects:
• 20% of adults in the U.S.
• 67% of people over age 75
• 33% of people over age 65
• 14% of people ages 45-64
• 15% of children ages 6-19
Overall, almost 36 million Americans suffer from hearing loss. That's approximately 1 in 8 people! Keep in mind that 60% of people who have hearing loss are below retirement age.
Q. What are the common symptoms of hearing loss?
• You are constantly asking people to repeat themselves
• You can only catch every fourth or fifth word while having a conversation in a noisy environment
• You often mishear words as something other than what was really said
• It seems as though many of the people in your life mumble
• People are always telling you to turn the TV down
• It’s very difficult to understand the person on the other end of the telephone
• You have a constant annoying ringing or buzzing in your ears
• Most importantly: friends and family members have asked you to get your hearing checked. They will often notice a problem before you do.
IMPORTANT: If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention as soon as possible:
• Sudden hearing loss
• Blood or fluid draining from your ears
• Sudden onset of dizziness
• Fluctuating hearing loss
• Head trauma
• Severe ear ache or feeling of intense pressure
Q. Are there different kinds of hearing loss?
Yes! There are three different types of hearing loss, as determined by where in your ear the problem lies. There are also five different degrees of hearing loss, as determined by which pitches and volumes you have trouble hearing.
Types of hearing loss:
• Conductive Hearing Loss: Sound can’t make it from the outer ear (the part you can see) to the inner ear (the part you can't see). This can often be because of wax buildup, trauma to the ear, or even ear infections. Typically, conductive hearing loss “turns the volume down” but doesn’t create issues with your ability to understand sound patterns. Learn more about conductive hearing loss here.
• Sensorineural Hearing Loss: With sensorineural hearing loss, the problem lies in the hearing nerve. Most of the time, the nerve has deteriorated because of aging or noise exposure, but sometimes, cancer treatments or illness can create deterioration as well. With sensorineural loss, it's not just that “the volume is turned down,” but your ability to understand speech suffers too. 90% of people with hearing loss have this kind, and the most effective treatment is hearing devices! Learn more about sensorineural hearing loss here.
• Mixed Hearing Loss: Just like it sounds, this type of hearing loss is a mixture of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. Learn more about mixed hearing loss here.
Degrees of Hearing Loss:
• Mild: With mild hearing loss, you may have some trouble hearing conversations in a noisy room or when someone is speaking quietly. In quiet environments, mild hearing loss is manageable.
• Moderate: This degree of hearing loss makes it even harder to hear conversations in group settings. People with moderate loss often have the TV turned up too loud for others’ comfort.
• Moderately Severe: At this level, hearing and understanding speech is significantly reduced. Group environments are an extreme challenge.
• Severe: With severe hearing loss, normal conversation is not audible. Even shouting can be challenging to comprehend.
• Profound: This is the greatest degree of hearing loss. Only the loudest sounds are audible and even shouting may not be heard at all.
Q. How can I prevent my hearing loss from getting worse?
For the vast majority of people out there with hearing loss, it does get worse over time. There are three things you can do to slow this process down:
• Use hearing aids to address your hearing loss! They make the most out of the hearing ability you have left and keep your brain’s ability to recognize speech in top shape. Make an appointment here.
• Limit your noise exposure. If you work in a noisy environment or plan to attend a loud event, like a concert, then ear protection is a must. Regular earplugs provide some protection, which is better than nothing, but your EarQ provider can fit you with custom ear plugs for maximum comfort and protection. On an everyday basis, turn the volume down!
• Get annual hearing tests so you can monitor your hearing health and take action as soon as any changes occur.
Read more about how to protect your ears and hearing here.
Q. Can you help me understand my hearing test results?
When an EarQ professional tests your hearing, they'll fill out a chart called an audiogram. This is a visual representation of your hearing loss illustrating which pitches you have difficulty hearing and how loud sounds need to be in order for you to hear them. Pitch is measured in Hertz (Hz), and loudness is measured in Decibels (dB).
Based on your audiogram, your EarQ professional will be able to tell if you have normal hearing or if you have mild, moderate, moderately severe, severe or profound hearing loss. This result will determine whether or not you need hearing aids and, if you do, which type is right for you.
Q. Can my family practice doctor test my hearing?
The simple answer is yes. Some family practice doctors make a hearing evaluation part of your yearly physical, although it’s more likely that you’ll have to request one. (According to the Center for Hearing and Communication, only about 16% of physicians routinely screen for hearing loss.) Either way, if you’re experiencing hearing loss, your doctor will have to refer you to a hearing healthcare provider for treatment.
If you'd prefer to make just one appointment instead of going to your doctor and then to your EarQ provider, you can come directly to us for your hearing evaluation.
Q. What are the treatment options for hearing loss?
If your hearing loss is caused by a blockage like a wax buildup (conductive hearing loss), then having it cleared by your hearing healthcare professional could drastically improve your hearing ability. However, the most common hearing loss originates from damage to the nerve in the inner ear (sensorineural hearing loss), and nerve damage is permanent. The good news is that 95% of sensorineural hearing loss cases can be effectively helped through the use of hearing aids. Your local hearing healthcare professional can help you find hearing aids that fit your needs and lifestyle.
Learn more about the different types of hearing loss and their causes here.
Q. What are the degrees of hearing loss?
The degree of hearing loss is determined during your hearing evaluation, and the results are shown in an audiogram. Your hearing evaluation rates the highness or lowness in pitch that is difficult for you to hear, and how loud sounds have to be before you can pick up on them. Based on that, your EarQ provider will figure out your degree of hearing loss.
The different levels of hearing loss are:
Mild: This means that you may have some trouble hearing conversations in a noisy room or when someone is speaking quietly. In quiet environments, mild hearing loss is manageable.
Moderate: This degree of hearing loss makes it even harder to hear conversation in group settings. People with moderate loss are those that have the TV and radio turned up too loud for comfort.
Moderately Severe: Hearing and understanding speech is significantly reduced at this level and group environments are an extreme challenge.
Severe: This degree of hearing loss means that normal conversation is not audible. Even shouting can be challenging to comprehend.
Profound: This is the greatest degree of hearing loss. Only the loudest sounds are audible and even shouting may not be heard at all.
Q. Why can't I understand speech in crowded environments?
Most speaking voices are in the mid-to-high frequency range of sound, and it just so happens that this is the range most people with hearing loss lose first. As a result, any loud or distracting noises make it difficult for you to comprehend what is being said. EarQ hearing aids feature innovative technology that reduces background noise in the tiny pauses between syllables of speech so that it’s much easier to understand a conversation in a noisy environment.
Browse our hearing aid technology.
Q. Why can't I hear women and children's voices clearly?
Similar to the reason it’s often hard for people with hearing loss to hear in crowded environments, you’re most likely experiencing these difficulties due to a hearing loss in high frequencies. Women and children have higher-pitched voices than men do, so their speech patterns may be falling exactly within the range of your hearing loss.
Q. Is it possible to have hearing loss in only one ear?
Yes, although it’s not very common. The vast majority of people with hearing loss have a loss in both ears (bilateral loss). However, some causes of hearing loss in only one ear (unilateral loss) may be:
• Illness or infection
• Head or ear trauma
If you think you may be experiencing unilateral or bilateral loss, make an appointment with your local EarQ provider.
Q. I only miss a word or two occasionally... Do I have hearing loss?
While a small amount of hearing loss is normal, especially during the aging process, no amount of hearing loss should be taken lightly. If you’re only missing a few words here and there, you could still fall into a normal hearing range. If it’s more serious than that, though, it’s not a good idea to wait any longer to have your hearing checked. Make an appointment with your local EarQ professional if there’s any question in your mind.
Either way, it’s recommended that you get an annual hearing test, just like you have an annual physician’s checkup. This will allow you to monitor your hearing health and take action as soon as you notice any changes.
Q. Why do I hear better when I look at the speaker?
People who are generally unaware of their hearing loss will often notice that when they can see someone speak, they understand them better. Without even realizing it, you’re engaging in some natural lipreading. Technically, lipreading is the process of visually detecting non-vocalized sounds (those which don’t require breath behind them, like consonants). Therefore, your brain is using a combination of what you can hear and what you can see in order to better understand.
Q. Will my hearing loss get worse over time?
It really depends on the type of hearing loss you're experiencing. For the vast majority of people out there with hearing loss, it will get worse with time. Whether you have hearing loss from continued noise exposure or it's simply a combination of aging and genetics, time is not on your side. This is why it's important to visit an EarQ provider at your earliest convenience and treat hearing loss you may be experiencing.
Q. Does ear wax cause hearing loss?
Absolutely. Earwax, referred to as cerumen in medical terms, can build up or become impacted and then partially or completely block your ear canal. In fact, earwax is the most common cause of conductive hearing loss. Read more here.
Your EarQ provider can quickly and easily deal with excess wax. If you’re worried that you’re producing too much earwax and it's affecting your hearing ability, make an appointment.
Note: the use of cotton swabs to clean your ear canals is NOT recommended by hearing healthcare professionals. It can actually be the cause of earwax buildup!
Q. Is it okay to use cotton swabs to clean my ears?
Unless you're using the cotton swab to clean the very outside of your ear (the part that sticks out from your head), the answer is no.
Your ear canal is self-cleaning, and a little earwax actually helps to keep things like dirt and dust from getting to the important parts of the ear. There's a layer of tissue that lines your ear canal and grows outward at about the same pace as your hair or nails. Dirt, dust, and other unwanted things are captured on this tissue and then pushed back to the outside of the ear before they can reach the area of your ear that could be damaged by them. When you use a cotton swab to clean your ear, you damaging the tissue that does the job better than any cotton swab could!
What’s more, you could actually be pushing wax deeper into the ear canal, where it could easily start to affect your hearing. Cotton swabbing could also damage the sensitive parts of your inner ear, like your eardrum.
Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the cochlea in the inner ear or damage to the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain. Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of permanent hearing loss.
Note: Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL), also called sudden deafness, is a rapid loss of hearing. This can happen to a person all at once or over a period of up to three days. It should be considered a medical emergency and a patient who experiences SSHL should visit a doctor immediately. If it’s treated in a timely manner, some SSHL patients recover completely without treatment and often within the first few days. Others may get better slowly over a period of 1-2 weeks.
Causes & Risk Factors
There are several causes of sensorineural hearing loss including:
• Drugs that are toxic
• Head trauma
• Malformation of the inner ear
• Exposure to loud noise
With sensorineural hearing loss, the ability to hear sounds is reduced. Even when speech is loud enough to hear, it may still sound unclear or muffled.
Treatment options for people with sensorineural hearing loss include the use of devices like hearing aids and cochlear implants. Hearing aids can turn up the volume and also provide crystal clear sound so that understanding speech is no longer as difficult. 95% of sensorineural hearing loss cases can be helped by hearing aids.
Cochlear implants provide direct electrical stimulation to the auditory nerve in the inner ear. Children and adults with a severe to profound hearing loss who cannot be helped by hearing aids may be candidates for cochlear implants.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, approximately 4,000 new cases of sensorineural hearing loss occur each year in the United States. It can affect anyone, but it typically happens to people 30-60 years of age.
If possible, sensorineural hearing loss should be addressed with hearing aids as soon as possible. This helps slow its progression. Another simple way to prevent further damage is to limit or avoid noise exposure. If you work in a noisy environment or plan on attending a concert or other event with high volume levels, then ear protection is critical!
Click here to make an appointment with your local hearing healthcare professional.
Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound cannot be transported, or conducted, from the outer ear to the eardrum and the ossicles (tiny bones) of the middle ear.
Causes & Risk Factors
There are several causes of conductive hearing loss including:
• Buildup of earwax/impacted earwax (cerumen)
• Fluid in the middle ear from illness
• Ear infections (otitis media)
• Perforated eardrum
Conductive hearing loss usually involves a reduction in sound level, limiting your ability to hear faint sounds. It does not make sounds more difficult to understand or interrupt speech comprehension.
If the conductive loss is being caused by a blockage in the ear canal, removing it can often restore some or all hearing ability. Otherwise, this type of hearing loss can often be corrected with the use of hearing aids or other devices that are surgically inserted to allow sound waves to pass through the ear.
Keep your ears clean and dry, but don’t use cotton swabs to do so. Read more about taking care of your ears and hearing ability here.
Just like it sounds, mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. It therefore occurs when there is damage or a blockage in the outer or middle ear as well as damage to the cochlea or auditory nerve in the inner ear.
Causes & Risk Factors
There are several causes of mixed hearing loss including:
Those for sensorineural hearing loss:
• Drugs that are toxic
• Head trauma
• Malformation of the inner ear
• Exposure to loud noise
Those for conductive hearing loss:
• Buildup of earwax/impacted earwax
• Fluid in the middle ear from illness
• Ear infections (otitis media)
• Perforated eardrum
With sensorineural hearing loss, the ability to hear sounds is reduced. Even when speech is loud enough to hear, it may still sound unclear or muffled. Conductive hearing loss usually involves only a reduction in sound level, limiting your ability to hear faint sounds but not making them more difficult to understand. Mixed hearing loss, therefore, will include symptoms from both of these types.
The conductive part of mixed hearing loss can often be corrected with medical or surgical treatment, but the sensorineural part cannot be reversed. However, hearing aids can make a big difference!
Hearing aids are particularly useful in improving hearing and speech comprehension for people with sensorineural hearing loss. When recommending a hearing aid, your hearing healthcare professional will consider your hearing ability, activity level, physical limitations, medical conditions, cosmetic preferences, and other lifestyle needs.
The simplest way to prevent further damage is to limit or avoid noise exposure and take good care of your ears.
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) affects children, teenagers, and adults who are exposed to harmful noises. It can happen after only one time of being around an intense "impulse" sound, such as an explosion, or it can occur as a result of continuous exposure to loud sounds over time.
According to the NIDCD, approximately 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk for NIHL due to unsafe listening practices. These include the use of headphones at damaging volumes and the failure to protect your ears at concerts, bars, and other loud places.
Causes and Risk Factors
Recreational activities that may be risk factors include target shooting and hunting, snowmobile riding, woodworking and other hobbies, playing in a band, attending rock concerts, and listening with headphones too loudly. Harmful noises at home may also come from lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and shop tools.
Damaging noise levels in work environments are also a growing concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that occupational hearing loss is the most common work-related injury in the United States. Approximately 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work, and an additional nine million are exposed to ototoxic chemicals. An estimated $242 million is spent annually on workers' compensation for hearing loss disability. NIOSH recommends removing hazardous noise from the workplace whenever possible and using hearing protection in situations where dangerous noise exposures have not yet been controlled or eliminated.
When a person is exposed to loud noise over a long period of time, their symptoms will often increase gradually. Over time, sounds may become distorted or muffled, and it may be difficult to understand speech. People with noise-induced hearing loss may not even be aware of the loss, but it can be detected with a hearing test.
Excessive noise exposure can also cause tinnitus, a condition which causes you to hear a ringing or other sound when no external sound is present.
Hearing aids are almost always an appropriate way to address NIHL, and many can help manage tinnitus symptoms as well. Make an appointment with your local professional to see if hearing aids are right for you.
• Wear earplugs when noises reach dangerous levels
• Follow the 60/60 rule: When you listen to music with a personal audio device, listen at no louder than 60% volume for no more than 60 minutes a day.
• Choose over-the-ear headphones, as they don’t sit as close to the eardrum.
• Take advantage of smartphone apps that monitor the volume level of your smartphone for you.
• Consider musicians’ earplugs in order to attend concerts without sacrificing sound quality.
• When you’re around loud noise, try to give your ears a break from the noise every so often.
• Give your ears time to recover. Research suggests that you need 18 hours of quiet after a night out in order to truly let your ears recuperate.
If you experience a ringing in the ears or roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing sounds when no external sound is present, it could be tinnitus. Tinnitus can occur in one or both ears and can be soft, loud, low, or high.
Experts estimate that approximately 10 percent of the adult population in the United States (22.7 million people) experience tinnitus for more than three months. According to the American Tinnitus Association, 50 million Americans experience tinnitus to some degree. For 16 million people, it is severe enough that they seek medical attention, and for 2 million people, it is very serious and impacts their ability to function on a daily basis.
Causes and Risk Factors
Tinnitus is not a disease, but the symptom of a problem that affects hearing. Causes of tinnitus include hearing loss, exposure to loud noises, or medicines taken for other health issues. Over 200 drugs are known to cause tinnitus, but it can also be linked to earwax blocking the ear canal or a number of other health conditions, including the following:
• Noise-induced hearing loss
• Ear and sinus infections
• Diseases of the heart or blood vessels
• Ménière's disease
• Brain tumors
• Hormonal changes in women
• Thyroid abnormalities
Symptoms include a ringing, roaring, clicking, or hissing sound in the ears that may impact the ability to hear, work, or even sleep.
Treatment may include hearing aids, sound machines that provide a steady background of comfort sound, sound-masking devices, medicines, or even counseling, relaxation therapy, or biofeedback. There are even applications for smartphones or tablets that help reduce tinnitus by playing masking sounds. Fish tanks, fans, low-volume music, and indoor waterfalls may also be helpful ways to manage tinnitus.
Browse hearing aids with tinnitus therapy
The best way to prevent tinnitus is to avoid loud noises whenever possible. If you have to shout to be heard, the environment that is probably too loud and should be avoided. You should also be sure to always take medications only as directed.
Living With Tinnitus
Living with tinnitus may be challenging at times. Ongoing noise is disruptive and affects a person's ability to hear, work, or even sleep. It is a growing problem for musicians and people in the military. According to the American Tinnitus Association, tinnitus is the number one service-connected disability for veterans from all periods of service.
If a person thinks he/she is living with tinnitus, talking with a healthcare provider about hearing aids, sound machines, medicines, and even techniques to help cope with noise are the best options to aid in management.
Additional Tinnitus Resources
Visit the American Tinnitus Association website to join their support network, read articles in their magazine, and find out more about their commitment to a cure for tinnitus. They are invested in research and the site is a terrific resource for people living with tinnitus.
Use our provider locator tool to find a hearing healthcare professional nearby who can help.
Two or three out of every 1,000 newborns in the United States is born with hearing loss. Children can also lose their hearing during childhood.
The key to managing a child’s hearing loss has everything to do with timing. The earlier it’s detected and addressed, the better the outcome. Hearing aids or other solutions are critical to helping children with hearing loss stay up to speed with language and social skills, speech comprehension, and overall development.
Newborn Hearing Screenings
Every state in America has a program for newborn hearing screenings. If a newborn baby doesn’t pass the screening, follow-up testing must be done as soon as possible to confirm the type of hearing loss and determine the best way to manage it. Children actually begin to learn speech and language in the first six months of their life, so the earlier hearing loss is detected, the sooner plans can be made to help them learn to communicate with spoken words or sign language, if necessary.
According to the FDA, approximately 38,000 American children have cochlear implants.
Cochlear implants can help children as young as 12 months of age. They are small electronic devices surgically placed behind the ear and under the skin. They are appropriate for those with severe or profound hearing loss or deafness. Cochlear implants work by avoiding the damaged portions of the ear entirely and directly stimulating the auditory nerve.
Bone Anchored Hearing Aid
Infants as young as 4 weeks of age can benefit from hearing aids. Similar to cochlear implants, a bone anchored hearing aid (BAHA) attaches to the bone behind the ear. This small device transmits sound vibrations directly to the inner ear through the skull, avoiding the middle ear entirely. If a child has issues with hearing due to middle ear problems, the BAHA may be an option. Surgery is required to attach the device to the bone behind the ear.
How to Identify if Your Child Has Hearing Loss
As a parent, you may notice hearing loss in your child before anyone else does. Pay attention to your child’s reaction to loud noises and whether or not they can imitate sounds. Can they respond to voices or their name, say two-word sentences, or follow simple instructions?
You can use this checklist from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders to help monitor a baby’s progress as he or she grows. Show the checklist to the child’s doctor and begin or continue the discussion about hearing loss.
Ménière’s disease affects the inner ear and vestibular system, which is the system that helps you maintain your balance. It causes the part of the cochlea called the organ of Corti to become swollen, leading to hearing loss that may come and go over time.
Approximately 615,000 individuals have been diagnosed with Ménière's disease in the United States. Another 45,500 are newly diagnosed each year.
Causes & Risk Factors
Unfortunately, doctors don’t know what causes Ménière’s disease, and there is no cure. Researchers think that it may have to do with fluid levels in the inner ear or the closing of blood vessels, similar to what happens in people who get migraine headaches. Other researchers believe that Ménière’s disease occurs because of viral infections, allergies, or autoimmune reactions. The disease tends to run in families, so there could also be a genetic link.
Symptoms of Ménière’s disease include severe dizziness, lack of balance, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), ear pain, and pressure. The disease can exist in mild or severe forms.
Treatment for people with Ménière’s disease includes devices that deliver air pulses to the middle ear and medicines to help you control dizziness and fluid retention in your body. Surgery may also be required. There is no cure for Ménière’s disease yet, but some of these treatments may alleviate symptoms.
Doctors estimate that 6 out of 10 people with Ménière’s disease will get better on their own or can control their symptoms with diet, drugs, or devices. Limiting salt intake and taking water pills (diuretics) may help to reduce the amount of fluid pressure in the inner ear. Some people also limit or avoid caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, and smoking, as these things tend to make symptoms worse.