Frequently Asked Questions about Hearing loss

Reading time: 6 min
When is the best moment to deal with hearing loss?

The sooner the better; as time passes, the reduced level of stimulation in your ears and brain can affect the brain’s capacity to process sound and recognise speech. The more your speech recognition deteriorates, the harder it is to recover. What is more, mental acuity declines when you cannot hear what happens around you.

Are there different types of hearing loss?

There are three types: sensorineural, conductive and mixed hearing loss. Most people lose at least some degree of their hearing as they get older; 1 in 3 people aged 65 or over suffers some level of hearing impairment.

Do people often experience hearing loss as they get older?

Hearing impairment affects a lot of people at different stages of their lives. Around 55% of the population aged over 60 have some degree of hearing loss, while this figure increases to more than 70% in people aged over 70 years and 93% in those aged 81 or over.

Should I clean my ears regularly?

Never put anything inside your ears. Ears have a delicate lining which is easily damaged. Do not use cotton buds to clean your ears. They can irritate the ear canal and push wax further inside, which makes it harder to remove.

Can listening to music with earphones damage my ears?

A continuous noise level of 85 dB can damage your hearing. This is the sound level produced by heavy traffic. Pneumatic drills produce a sound level of around 100 dB, while rock concerts nearly always reach 110–120 dB. If you use headphones to listen to music at a normal level, it will not damage your hearing.

How should I protect my ears?

Wear suitable and accredited hearing protectors over your ears if the noise level in your workplace or environment is continuously high (over 85 dB). If you have previously suffered otitis, you should protect your hearing with swimming earplugs to avoid re-occurrences.

What symptoms will I notice if I develop hearing loss?

The first sign of hearing loss is difficulty making out certain sounds or tones clearly. For example, you may not be able to distinguish words that sound similar or hear high-pitched voices, such as those of children. Other signs include difficulty following overlapping conversations, listening from afar (e.g., in meetings), watching television, listening to the radio, or listening in large buildings where sounds might echo, such as churches or auditoriums.

What causes hearing loss?

In most cases hearing loss is a result of natural ageing; however, regular exposure to loud sounds, genetic inheritance and some diseases can also produce hearing loss. Around 90% of all cases of hearing loss are due to damage to the microscopic cells in the cochlea, or inner ear, which limits their capacity to detect soft and high-frequency sounds, hence the brain does not receive a complete signal.

Could my hearing loss be caused by ear wax?

Yes, it is a possibility. The accumulation of wax in the external ear canal can result in a wax blockage which prevents sound from reaching the eardrum (conductive hearing loss). The specialist will examine the state of your ear canals and, if necessary, remove any blockages using suction.

How can I tell if a medication is harmful to my hearing?

In such cases, the prescribing doctor will assess the benefits and potential side effects of the medication.

I have hearing loss; will I benefit from the use of an artificial hearing device?

Your ENT specialist will evaluate the cause of your hearing loss and the treatment options available. They are also the healthcare professional who will recommend the use of artificial hearing devices. Once your ENT specialist has prescribed an artificial device, you should visit a hearing centre where a hearing aid specialist will carry out the required tests and recommend the most suitable device for your hearing loss.

What is better for my hearing loss, a hearing aid or a cochlear implant?

Again, the ENT specialist will examine the cause of your hearing loss and recommend the best solution according to your hearing impairment. Remember a hearing aid is a device that covers mild to severe hearing loss. A cochlear implant must be fitted by means of a surgical intervention and is used for cases of profound hearing loss or residual hearing.

What tests will be carried out to study my hearing loss?

Your appointment with the specialist will begin with a short interview to learn about your symptoms and when they started. They will then perform a visual examination of your ears and clean them if necessary. The next step involves some tests to identify the location of the damage causing the hearing loss and your level of impairment. These are called acoumetry and audiometry tests, they are performed using tuning forks and an audiometer.

How does audiometry work?

An audiometry test measures your ability to hear sounds. The sounds vary according to their volume (strength) and the speed at which the sound waves vibrate (frequency).

Audiometry provides a very accurate measurement of hearing. The test uses some earphones connected to an audiometer. Pure tones are transmitted to one ear at a precise volume. You will be asked to raise your hand or press a button when you hear a sound.

The minimum strength (volume) necessary for you to hear each tone is plotted on a graph. A device called a bone vibrator is then placed against the mastoid bone, which is located behind each ear, to measure your level of bone conduction.

Will a hearing aid restore my previous level of hearing?

Hearing aids are only helpful for communication and cannot restore your normal level of hearing. Even though they will not re-establish your hearing once you have lost it, studies show that hearing aids offer an effective means of treating hearing loss. Most users notice a marked improvement in their ability to communicate, as the device makes it easier to hear and understand spoken word.

Can my hearing loss be resolved through a surgical intervention?

This depends on the location of the damaged area producing the hearing loss. In the case of conductive hearing loss, impairment arises because the sound reaching the cochlea of the inner ear is too weak. This type of hearing loss is associated with a better surgical outcome, as restoring the ability to transmit sound to the cochlea will help re-establish at least some of your hearing. In the case of sensorineural hearing loss, the cochlea is the damaged part, specifically the small hair cells inside the cochlea. These hair cells cannot be repaired by means of an operation. It is always the ENT specialist who will suggest the best solution for your hearing loss.

I can hear a noise in my ears when I am silent, what is it?

If you hear a buzzing, whistling, chirping or popping sound in your ears, you probably have a symptom known as tinnitus. It may occur from time to time or constantly, and you may perceive it in one or both ears or inside your head. Tinnitus cannot be cured; however, hearing aids and other treatments can help people manage this symptom better.

Is there a connection between hearing loss and cognitive impairment?

Several studies indicate there is a connection between hearing loss, reduced brain function and brain tissue loss. Brain “shrinkage” is a natural part of ageing, but older adults with hearing loss seem to lose brain matter at a faster rate than people with normal hearing.

How can I reduce the effects of my hearing loss?

Ensure you hold conversations in well-lit locations without too many echoes. Move away from sites with a constant background noise, for example, distance yourself from air conditioning units. Lip reading will help you understand conversations. Ask people to speak one at a time and move your better ear closer to the speaker.

I live with someone who has hearing loss. What can I do to help them?

You must always remember to look straight at the person when you talk to them and articulate words as clearly as possible. This will reduce any potential communication barriers and make it easier for them to read your lips.

Substantiated information by:

Ignacio Berdejo Gago
Miguel Caballero Borrego

Published: 18 May 2018
Updated: 18 May 2018

The donations that can be done through this webpage are exclusively for the benefit of Hospital Clínic of Barcelona through Fundació Clínic per a la Recerca Biomèdica and not for BBVA Foundation, entity that collaborates with the project of PortalClínic.


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