Hearing Loss

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Don't Ignore Hearing Problems

Some people have a hearing problem without realizing it. Others might think they have a problem, but are too embarrassed to tell their doctor, friends, or family. You can help identify a possible hearing problem by asking yourself some key questions and, if necessary, having your hearing checked by a doctor.

If a hearing loss is ignored or untreated, it can get worse. But a hearing loss that is identified early can be helped through treatment, such as hearing aids, certain medications, and surgery.

Do You Have A Hearing Problem?

Ask yourself the following questions. If you answer "yes" to three or more of these questions, you could have a hearing problem and may need to have your hearing checked by a doctor.

  • Do you sometimes feel embarrassed when you meet new people because you struggle to hear?
  • Do you feel frustrated when talking to members of your family because you have difficulty hearing them?
  • Do you have difficulty hearing or understanding co-workers, clients, or customers?
  • Do you feel restricted or limited by a hearing problem?
  • Do you feel restricted or limited by a hearing problem?
  • Do you have difficulty hearing when visiting friends, relatives, or neighbors?
  • Do you have trouble hearing in the movies or in the theater?
  • Does a hearing problem cause you to argue with family members?
  • Do you have trouble hearing the TV or radio at levels that are loud enough for others?
  • Do you feel that any difficulty with your hearing limits your personal life or social life?
  • Do you have trouble hearing family or friends when you are together in a restaurant?

You can take a quick online quiz called Do You Need a Hearing Test to help determine if you should have your hearing tested by a health professional. The quiz is for adults up to the age of 64. The results should not be used as a substitute for professional health care.

(Watch the video to learn more about having your hearing tested. To enlarge the video, click the brackets in the lower right-hand corner. To reduce the video, press the Escape (Esc) button on your keyboard.)

Sudden Deafness

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or sudden deafness, is a rapid loss of hearing. It can happen to a person all at once or over a period of up to 3 days. It should be considered a medical emergency. If you or someone you know experiences sudden sensorineural hearing loss, you should visit a doctor immediately. If the hearing loss is due to an inner ear disorder (usually determined by ear exam and, if indicated, obtaining a hearing test) your doctor may treat you with some form of steroids, which is an anti-inflammatory medication.

Learn more about sudden deafness.

Who Should I Consult?

The most important thing you can do if you think you have a hearing problem is to seek professional advice. There are several ways to do this. You may start with your primary care physician, an otolaryngologist, an audiologist, or a hearing instrument specialist. Each has a different type of training and expertise. Each can be an important part of your hearing health care.

An otolaryngologist -- a surgeon who specializes in ear, nose, and throat diseases -- will try to find out why you have a hearing loss and offer treatment options. He or she will ask you for your medical history, ask if other family members have hearing problems, perform a thorough exam, and prescribe any needed tests.

An audiologist is a health professional who can identify and measure hearing loss. The audiologist will use a device called an audiometer to test your ability to hear sounds of different loudness and pitch (where the sound falls on the scale, from high to low).

The tests that an audiologist performs are painless. Audiologists do not prescribe medications or perform surgery. If you need a hearing aid, audiologists are licensed to fit you with a device that would be most helpful to you.

A hearing instrument specialist (or hearing aid specialist) is a state-licensed professional that can check your hearing, fit a hearing aid, and counsel and educate you about your type of hearing loss.