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Eye and Ear Problems

Hearing Loss

Prevention - When to Call a Health Professional

Millions of North Americans cope with some degree of hearing loss. Most hearing loss is caused by problems in the inner ear or in the acoustic nerve, which sends sound signals to the brain. This is called sensorineural hearing loss . The damage to the inner ear that causes sensorineural hearing loss can be the result of exposure to loud noise, certain medications (including high doses of aspirin), or changes that come with age. In some cases, children are born with this type of hearing loss. People with sensori-neural hearing loss are usually not totally deaf. They may have trouble understanding the speech of others yet be very sensitive to loud sounds. They may also hear ringing, hissing, or clicking noises.

Hearing loss that develops when something prevents sound from reaching the inner ear is called conductive hearing loss . The most common cause is packed earwax in the ear canal, which can be easily treated (See Earwax). Infection, abnormal bone growth, and excess fluid in the ear are other causes of conductive hearing loss.

People who have conductive hearing loss often say that their own voice sounds loud while other voices sound muffled. There may be a low

level of ringing in the ear (tinnitus). Depending on the underlying problem, conductive hearing loss is usually treated by ear flushing, medication, or surgery.

A rare form of hearing loss is caused by damage to the hearing centres in the brain. This is called central deafness , and it can occur after a head injury or stroke. The person's ear works normally, but his or her brain has difficulty interpreting sounds.

Some hearing loss may be the result of decreased blood flow to the inner ear. If you have circulatory problems caused by heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes, be sure to follow your care plan for keeping those conditions under control.


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  • Avoid loud noise if possible. If you know you are going to be exposed to loud noise (at work, the shooting range, while snowmobiling, etc.), wear earplugs or protective earmuffs.

  • Keep your ears clean and periodically check for wax build-up. Do not use cotton swabs or other objects to clean your ears. See Earwax.

  • Ask your pharmacist if any medications you are taking can affect your hearing. For example, the use of certain antibiotics, blood pressure medications, ibuprofen, and large doses of aspirin (8 to 12 tablets per day) is linked to hearing impairment.

When to Call a Health Professional

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  • If hearing loss develops suddenly (within a matter of days or weeks).

  • If you have hearing loss in one ear only.

  • If you are thinking about wearing hearing aids. Make an appointment with a hearing specialist (otolaryngologist or audiologist) if:

    • You often ask people to repeat themselves or have difficulty understanding words.

    • You have difficulty hearing when someone speaks in a whisper.

    • You cannot hear soft sounds, such as a dripping faucet, or high-pitched sounds.

    • You continuously hear a ringing or hissing background noise.

    • A hearing problem is interfering with your life.


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