Hearing loss is the sudden or gradual decrease in hearing. Hearing loss can be mild or severe, reversible, temporary or permanent, and may affect one or both ears. The most common cause of hearing loss is age, affecting up to 25 percent of people between the ages of 65 and 75 and up to 50 percent of those over the age of 75. Age-related hearing loss, known as presbycusis, results from changes in the ear which cause gradual hearing loss. Some individuals are hearing-impaired or deaf as a result of a congenital defect or because of an illness, such as Ménière’s disease.
Treatment of hearing loss depends in the cause of the problem. For temporary loss of hearing due to wax buildup, a thorough cleaning of the ear canal, also known as an irrigation or lavage, may be helpful. Hearing loss caused by an ear infection may be treated with antibiotics and decongestants to rid mucus from the ears. For more permanent types of hearing loss resulting from aging, or damage to the inner ear, hearing aids may be helpful, although adjusting to them may take a few weeks.
When the eardrum has been torn or perforated, a surgical procedure known as tympanoplasty, may be necessary to repair the eardrum. Individuals with more profound hearing loss as a result of a congenital defect, injury or disease, may benefit from the surgical implantation of a cochlear implant, a small electronic device that helps to provide a sense of sound. Individuals coping with severe hearing loss may also learn to pay careful attention to gestures and facial expressions, to read lips, or to use sign language in order to improve their communication skills.