Hearing loss affects all facets of your life, including your ability to connect easily with others. Hearing loss can be mild or severe, temporary or permanent. It can affect one ear or both ears.
Some people are born with hearing loss. Others begin to experience hearing loss in midlife. By age 60, nearly one in three adults experience signs of hearing loss. About half of all adults in their 70s and older have some type of hearing loss.
Hearing loss can be so gradual that you may not even realize how bad your hearing has become. It can affect your quality of life as you start to avoid situations where it is difficult to hear. And it becomes more challenging for others to communicate with you as well.
For children, even a minimal hearing loss can negatively affect their speech development, behavior and education.
In some cases, medication or surgery may restore your hearing. If your hearing loss is permanent, hearing aids or auditory implants may help you hear much better.
Signs of Hearing Loss in Adults
Signs of hearing loss in adults may include one or more of the following:
- Hearing muffled or muted speech
- Difficulty understanding conversations when in noisy spaces, such as restaurants
- Having tinnitus, a constant or sporadic sound in one or both ears, such as ringing, buzzing, roaring or hissing
- Feeling of pressure in one or both ears
- Needing to turn the volume up high on the TV or other devices
Signs of Hearing Loss in Children
If you notice any of these behaviors in your child, they may be experiencing hearing loss:
- Speech is unclear or delayed
- Does not follow directions accurately
- Frequently appears to not be paying attention when spoken to
- Often says, "What?" or "Huh?"
- Watches TV with the volume up high
For older adults, untreated hearing loss is known to be related to a decline in social, mental and cognitive function.
Types of Hearing Loss
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
- This is the most common type of hearing loss.
- It is often permanent and is caused by damage to the inner ear (cochlea) or hearing nerve.
- It can be present at birth or develop gradually due to aging or noise exposure.
- See your primary care doctor right away if you experience sudden hearing loss, which is a sensorineural hearing loss that may be reversible if treated early.
Conductive Hearing Loss
- This is related to conditions of the outer ear (ear canal) or middle ear (eardrum) that are blocking the transmission of sound to the inner ear.
- It is often temporary.
- It is usually treated effectively with medication or surgery.
Mixed Hearing Loss
- This is a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss.
Treatment for Hearing Loss
Depending on the type and extent of your hearing loss, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments:
- Medication: Your primary care doctor or specialist may prescribe antibiotics if you have an ear infection, steroid medications at the onset of sudden hearing loss or other medications that may help with conditions such as tinnitus.
- Surgery: Depending on the cause of your hearing loss, your specialist may recommend surgery such as eardrum repair, inserting tubes to drain liquid or repairing the small bones in your middle ear.
- Hearing aids: If your hearing loss is permanent, you may benefit from hearing aids to make sounds louder and more distinct.
- Many customizable in-the-ear and behind-the-ear styles are available.
- Audiologists at Rush will work with you to determine which hearing aid may help you hear better and improve your quality of life.
- Your audiologist will custom fit your hearing aid to make sure you can hear spoken words better while keeping you safe and comfortable when exposed to loud sounds.
- Cochlear implant: If your hearing loss or your child's hearing loss is permanent, and hearing aids are found not to be helpful, your team may recommend a cochlear implant. Your surgeon implants a small electronic device behind your ear to restore partial hearing by converting sounds into electrical impulses on your auditory nerve. It is different from normal hearing and you will need to learn to hear in a new way.
- Pediatric cochlear implants: The Rush team also specializes in pediatric cochlear implants, recognizing the unique and important needs of children struggling with hearing loss.
- Auditory osseointegrated implant: If your hearing loss is severe but you have a functioning cochlea, your team may recommend an auditory osseointegrated implant, also known as Baha (bone-anchored hearing aid). This implant helps sound vibrations bypass a nonfunctioning middle ear. It uses bone conduction to send sound vibrations from the hearing aid to the cochlea (inner ear).
Rush Excellence in Hearing Loss Care
- Comprehensive ENT services: Our ENT specialists address a full range of ear, nose and throat (ENT) conditions, including hearing loss affecting both adults and children. U.S. News & World Report ranked Rush University Medical Center among the best in the nation for ENT care.
- Expertise and experience: Audiologists at Rush provide sophisticated hearing tests for children and adults, auditory rehabilitation and hearing aids and auditory osseointegrated implants to help you hear better. If you have sensorineural hearing loss and can't benefit from hearing aids, our auditory implant specialists are committed to improving your ability to communicate.
- Personalized care: Because no two people experience hearing loss the same way, ENT specialists and audiologists at Rush provide customized treatment for each patient. They will work with you to find the best solution for your individual needs.