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When treating patients, this is one of the questions most often asked of us. The definition of hearing loss is simple: you are unable to hear normal conversations. It’s also extremely common with over 22 million hearing impaired Americans and 10 million suffering from hearing loss.

We lose our hearing for countless reasons but more often than not hearing deteriorates as we get older. This type of age-related hearing loss is known as presbycusis. As we get older the nerves and sensitive hair cells in the inner ear begin to break down resulting in presbycusis or age-related hearing loss. Symptoms of this type of hearing loss are experienced as being unable to distinguish the difference between consonants like T, K, S, P, and F, or not hearing high-pitched sounds like the voices of women and children. The second most frequent cause of hearing loss is known as acoustic trauma or noise-induced hearing loss (NIMH), and happens when you have been exposed repeatedly to loud noises. It can happen as a result of being around loud music (such as attending or working in loud nightclubs) or working with noisy machines or equipment. These are both examples of what is called sensorineural hearing loss, and although these conditions can rarely be reversed or eliminated, they can easily be treated using hearing aids to amplify and filter the sounds you hear.

Conductive hearing loss is different, and is characterized by a blockage in the ear canal that prevents sound from reaching the eardrum; the most common cause of this is the most easily treated and reversed, a buildup of ear wax. Other types of conductive hearing loss may be caused by perforation or scarring of the eardrum, by a buildup of fluid in the middle ear, or by otosclerosis, an abnormal bone formation that causes the inner ear to become less flexible and thus less effective at transmitting and understanding sounds.

Other known causes for hearing loss are infections in the ear canal and middle ear, as well as medications including antibiotics and drugs used in cancer treatment. Certain diseases may also cause hearing loss, such as Ménière’s disease, acoustic neuroma (noncancerous tumors on the bones of the middle ear), diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.

The best advice we can give you if you suspect you are losing your hearing is to make an appointment to have your hearing tested, so that we may advise you as to possible causes of the condition, and how best to treat it. Hearing loss is in most cases progressive, meaning that ignoring it or pretending that it isn’t there will not get rid of the problem and may cause the hearing loss to become worse, or permanent.