Hearing Loss: Signs, Symptoms, and Complications

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The main symptom of hearing loss is the inability to hear sound. Depending on the type of hearing loss, symptoms can vary from difficulty understanding words to having a hard time hearing in crowded spaces to deafness in one or both ears. Some people may also experience tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

Hearing loss can be hereditary or caused by age, exposure to loud noise, disease, or other causes. Untreated hearing loss can lead to other symptoms such as depression, anxiety, or feelings of isolation. It can also lead to central auditory processing deficits (how the brain processes sound and speech).

This article discusses the symptoms of hearing loss, possible complications, and when to see a healthcare provider.

Woman cupping ear trying to hear something

HUIZENG HU / Getty Images

Frequent Symptoms

Many adults may not realize they are experiencing signs of hearing loss, especially if it happens gradually. Others may feel embarrassed to admit they have a hard time hearing. However, hearing loss is common and affects 1 in 3 people between the ages of 65 and 74.

Signs of hearing loss include, but are not limited to:

  • Trouble having conversations with friends and family
  • Having to ask others to repeat themselves
  • Difficulty hearing during phone conversations
  • Difficulty following conversations where two or more people are talking
  • Turning the TV volume up so loud that others complain
  • Having a hard time hearing when there is background noise
  • Feeling like others are mumbling when they talk to you
  • Difficulty understanding when women and children speak
  • Difficulty hearing alarms or the doorbell
  • Speaking with a loud voice

Children who are born with hearing loss (congenital hearing loss) may have difficulty communicating and can experience language delays.

However, most children are tested at birth for hearing loss, as it is difficult to recognize symptoms at that age and medical tests are the only way to know if a newborn has hearing loss.

Rare Symptoms

Sudden, unexplained hearing loss is rare, but it can happen. Known as sudden sensorineural deafness, this type of hearing loss causes a reduction in hearing of more than 30 decibels (a sound measurement) all at once or over the course of several days.

Other causes of sudden hearing loss include:

  • Infection
  • Tumors
  • Trauma to the ear
  • Inflammation
  • Conditions of the inner ear, such as Meniere’s disease (a disorder that affects balance and hearing)

Some people will also experience dizziness, ringing in the ears, or both of these symptoms along with or before hearing loss. In most cases of sudden deafness, only one ear is affected, but both ears can be affected.

Sudden Sensorineural Deafness

About 85% of people with sudden sensorineural deafness who receive treatment will recover some or all of their hearing. Half of those affected will recover some or all of their hearing spontaneously.

Complications

Hearing loss can indirectly affect quality of life, causing social, financial, physical, and mental health issues.

Since hearing loss primarily affects communication, relationships are usually the first to suffer. Not being able to hear well can cause difficulties with a partner, family, and friends. You and those around you may become frustrated with the lack of communication or frequent misunderstandings.

Affected communication can also cause problems at work, leading to unemployment or underemployment.

There is also evidence that hearing loss raises the risk of hospitalizations, falls, frailty, and death in the elderly when compared to adults with no hearing loss.

Risk for disorders such as depression and dementia also increases with hearing loss.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you experience any symptoms of hearing loss, you should talk to your healthcare provider about treatment options.

If your trouble hearing is affecting your personal or social life, it could be a sign that you are experiencing hearing loss. Often, people think that they can hear just fine, but others around them will notice they have difficulty hearing before they do.

Hearing loss may seem like a natural part of the aging process, but it should not be ignored. If you experience symptoms—even mild ones—it's best to speak to a healthcare provider so that you can receive proper care.

If you experience a sudden and significant hearing loss in one ear, be sure to see a healthcare provider as soon as possible, since early treatment is most effective. Early treatment can also help prevent future complications such as anxiety, depression, and dementia.

Several types of healthcare providers can evaluate hearing loss. Your primary care provider can evaluate your ears and hearing, as well as an otolaryngologist, a doctor who specializes in the ears, nose, and throat (ENT).

An audiologist can measure the type and degree of hearing loss and a hearing aid specialist can help fit and test you for hearing aids.

Summary

Hearing loss symptoms can vary from mild to severe. Sudden hearing loss is rare, but it can happen. Usually hearing loss develops gradually. Regardless of onset type or speed, any symptom of hearing loss should be evaluated to prevent further hearing loss and any negative effects on a person's quality of life.

A Word From Verywell

Though many people are embarrassed to admit they have difficulty hearing, it is fairly common as we age. Seeking help from a healthcare provider can empower you to take control of your health and well-being. There are ways to treat hearing loss, and early treatment can help prevent further loss and other complications.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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