UT Health Physicians

Information on Hearing Loss

How we hear

The process of hearing involves a complicated pathway as sound waves travel from the outer ear, through the middle ear, to the cochlea and then up the auditory nerve to the auditory centers in the brain, where sounds are interpreted and processed for understanding.  Damage to any structure between the outer ear and the brain can cause hearing impairment, reducing and distorting the message. Hearing loss can be transient or permanent. Visit your audiologist or physician to determine what type of hearing loss you have and treatment options.

What causes hearing loss?

The three most common causes of hearing loss in adults are:

  • Aging/genetics
  • Noise exposure
  • Ototoxic medications

Additional causes of hearing loss include:

  • Trauma to the head which may cause perforation of eardrum, disarticulation of middle ear bones, or concussive trauma in cochlea
  • Infection
  • Meniere's disease
  • Tumors
  • Otosclerosis
  • Congenital disorders
  • Physical blockage such as wax buildup or foreign object stuck in ear

If you think you have a hearing loss, you should see a physician to get a hearing test to determine the cause and whether or not it is permanent or temporary.

Types of hearing loss


  • Permanent or transient
  • Causes: Infection, malformation of auditory structures
  • Treatment: Medication, surgery


  • Combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss
  • Medication or surgery may improve conductive component


  • Permanent
  • Typically due to damage/death of outer/inner hair cells of cochlear or nerve damage/disuse
  • Most common type of hearing loss in adult and geriatric populations


  • Typically permanent
  • Characterized by poor speech discrimination scores
  • Any damage past the peripheral system (higher in the brain)

Why do I think I hear fine, but my family says I have hearing loss?

Hearing loss is often a slowly progressive condition that isn’t noticed at first. Hearing loss is frequently denied by the individual suffering from impairment. People frequently blame others for mumbling, not speaking clearly or not facing them when they talk.

In 2006, 37 million adults in the United States identified themselves as having difficulty hearing — ranging from a little trouble hearing to being deaf.

Warning signs of hearing loss

Some warning signs include:

  • Asking people to repeat themselves
  • Missing large parts of conversations when there is a lot of background noise
  • Complaining that people around you are mumbling when they speak
  • Inability to hear common sounds like doorbells and blinkers in cars

If you think you have a hearing loss, please contact your physician. In some cases, hearing loss can be prevented from worsening.

Consequences of untreated hearing loss

Studies have linked untreated hearing loss to:

  • Irritability, negativism and anger
  • Fatigue, tension, stress and depression
  • Avoidance or withdrawal from social situations
  • Social rejection and loneliness
  • Reduced alertness and increased risk to personal safety
  • Impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks
  • Reduced job performance and earning power
  • Diminished psychological and overall health

When to contact a medical professional

Call your health care provider if:

  • Hearing problems interfere with your lifestyle.
  • Hearing problems do not go away or become worse.
  • Hearing is worse in one ear than the other.
  • You have sudden, severe hearing loss or ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
  • You have other symptoms, such as ear pain, along with hearing problems.
  • You have new headaches, weakness or numbness anywhere on your body.


Pleis JR, Lethbridge-Cejku M. Summary health statistics for U.S. adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2006. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(235). 2007.

Kochkin, Sergei. Consequences of Hearing Loss. Better Hearing Institute.

National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. Medline Plus. Hearing Loss. Medical Encyclopedia. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2008.