Hearing Loss Q&A

Hearing loss is a sudden or gradual reduction in the ability to hear clearly in one or both ears. Total, permanent hearing loss is rare. Wax blockage or an ear infection may cause temporary hearing loss. The normal aging process may result in partial, permanent hearing loss, which can sometimes be treated with surgery or with a hearing aid.

  • Do you have earache?

    • Earache
    • No earache

      Have you noticed any discharge from the ear?

      • Discharge
        • Possible cause An infection of the outer ear is a possible cause (see Otitis externa).

          Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

      • No discharge

        Do any of the following apply?

        • Your ear feels blocked

          Do you have either of the following symptoms?

          • Runny or stuffy nose
            • Possible cause It is likely that the tube linking your middle ear and throat has become blocked as a result of a common cold.

              Self-help Steam inhalation can help. Make an appointment to see your doctor if your hearing has not returned to normal 1–2 days after the other cold symptoms have disappeared or if new symptoms develop.

          • Sore throat
            • Possible cause It is likely that the tube linking your middle ear and throat has become blocked as a result of a common cold.

              Self-help Steam inhalation can help. Make an appointment to see your doctor if your hearing has not returned to normal 1–2 days after the other cold symptoms have disappeared or if new symptoms develop.

          • Neither

            Have you recently had any of the following illnesses?

            • Meningitis
              • Possible cause These infections sometimes cause damage to hearing, which may not become obvious until later.

                Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

            • Encephalitis
              • Possible cause These infections sometimes cause damage to hearing, which may not become obvious until later.

                Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

            • None of the above

              Has hearing loss developed since you started any medication?

              • Medication
                • Possible cause Your symptoms may be a side effect of the medication.

                  Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor. Continue to take prescribed medication unless advised to stop by your doctor but stop taking any other medications.

              • No medication

                Does either of the following apply?

                • You regularly listen to loud music
                  • Possible cause Exposure to loud noise can result in damage to your hearing (see Noise-induced hearing loss).

                    Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

                • You are exposed to loud noise at work
                  • Possible cause Exposure to loud noise can result in damage to your hearing (see Noise-induced hearing loss).

                    Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

                • Neither

                  Have other family members suffered from increasing hearing loss that started before the age of 50?

                  • No family history of hearing loss

                    How old are you?

                    • 50 or over
                      • Possible cause Gradual loss of hearing that develops in later life may be due to presbyacusis. Wax blockage can also cause hearing loss.

                        Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

                    • Under 50
                      • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your hearing loss from this chart, make an appointment to see your doctor.

                  • Family history of hearing loss
                    • Possible cause Otosclerosis or one of a group of rare inherited disorders that affect hearing are possibilities.

                      Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

        • You have been feeling dizzy
          • Possible cause You could have Ménière’s disease. Acoustic neuroma or another problem of the nervous system are also possibilities.

            Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

        • You have ringing in the ear
          • Possible cause You could have Ménière’s disease. Acoustic neuroma or another problem of the nervous system are also possibilities.

            Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

        • None of the above

          Have you recently had any of the following illnesses?

          • Meningitis
            • Possible cause These infections sometimes cause damage to hearing, which may not become obvious until later.

              Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

          • Encephalitis
            • Possible cause These infections sometimes cause damage to hearing, which may not become obvious until later.

              Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

          • None of the above

            Has hearing loss developed since you started any medication?

            • Medication
              • Possible cause Your symptoms may be a side effect of the medication.

                Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor. Continue to take prescribed medication unless advised to stop by your doctor but stop taking any other medications.

            • No medication

              Does either of the following apply?

              • You regularly listen to loud music
                • Possible cause Exposure to loud noise can result in damage to your hearing (see Noise-induced hearing loss).

                  Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

              • You are exposed to loud noise at work
                • Possible cause Exposure to loud noise can result in damage to your hearing (see Noise-induced hearing loss).

                  Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

              • Neither

                Have other family members suffered from increasing hearing loss that started before the age of 50?

                • No family history of hearing loss

                  How old are you?

                  • 50 or over
                    • Possible cause Gradual loss of hearing that develops in later life may be due to presbyacusis. Wax blockage can also cause hearing loss.

                      Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

                  • Under 50
                    • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your hearing loss from this chart, make an appointment to see your doctor.

                • Family history of hearing loss
                  • Possible cause Otosclerosis or one of a group of rare inherited disorders that affect hearing are possibilities.

                    Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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