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Deafness - Types, Causes, Signs, and Treatment

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5 min read


Unsafe listening practices can pave the way for deafness. Read more to know what causes deafness, who can get it, tips to prevent deafness, and the proper treatment.

Published At December 9, 2022
Reviewed AtJune 9, 2023


Deafness is a disability, and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by 2050 one in every ten people will have disabling hearing loss. Understanding the anatomy of an ear and its functioning can help to improve your knowledge of the loss of hearing.

The Ear:

The ear not only helps in hearing but also aids in the body’s balance.

Parts of the ear include;

Outer Ear

  • Pinna - The ear that we see outside is the pinna.

  • External Auditory Canal - This tube connects the outer ear with the middle ear.

  • Tympanic Membrane - This structure, also known as the eardrum, separates the middle ear from the external ear.

Middle Ear

  • Ossicles -These include three small bones; malleus, incus, and stapes. These bones help transmit sound waves to the inner ear.

  • Eustachian Tube - This is a canal that connects the middle ear and the back of the nose. It equalizes the middle ear pressure, which is essential for sound wave transfer.

Inner Ear

  • Cochlea - The nerves for hearing (auditory nerve) are located in the cochlea. It is a fluid-filled organ.

  • Vestibule and Semicircular Canals - The receptors for balance are located in this region.

How Do We Hear Sounds?

External sounds travel through the external auditory canal to hit the tympanic membrane. As the sound waves strike the tympanic membrane, it vibrates. These vibrations are then transferred to the ear ossicles, where the sound gets amplified. This amplified sound then reaches the inner ear to the cochlea. Within the inner ear, these sound waves are converted into electrical impulses, which are then carried by the auditory nerve to the brain. In the brain, these electrical impulses are translated as sounds that we hear.

Are Deafness and Hearing Loss the Same?

While deafness is a total lack of hearing, hearing loss refers to the reduced ability to hear sounds. People with deafness cannot detect sound at all, even with louder volumes. But people with hearing loss can hear or detect sounds with appropriate volumes based on the severity of hearing loss.

What Are the Types of Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss is of three types:

1. Conductive Hearing Loss - Due to blockage of something in the ear at the level of the external ear canal, tympanic membrane, or middle ear, the sound waves cannot reach the inner ear (cochlea) from the external ear in this type of hearing loss. The most common causes of blockage are;

  • Earwax build-up.

  • Ear infection.

  • Eardrum perforation.

  • Ossicle malfunctioning (due to ankylosis).

  • Reduced functioning of the eardrum due to scar tissue formation following an infection.

2. Sensorineural Hearing Loss - Unlike conductive hearing loss, the sound waves reach the inner ear. Still, processing of the sound waves into nerve impulses does not occur (sensory loss), or the translated nerve impulse does not reach the brain for processing (neural loss). This is due to damaged hair cells in the cochlea. Apart from aging, exposure to loud noises for extended periods also causes hair cell damage. Other causes of sensorineural hearing loss are;

  • Brain tumor.

  • Inner ear infections.

  • Head injury.

  • Congenital deformities.

3. Mixed Hearing Loss - This type involves the causes of both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, such as head injury, genetic abnormalities, chronic ear infections, etc.

What Are the Common Causes of Deafness?

  • Aging - Age-related hearing loss or presbycusis is one of the common problems associated with aging, especially in older adults over 65 years of age. The hearing loss is gradual.

  • Excessive Earwax Accumulation - Hearing loss due to excessive earwax build-up is the most common and treatable condition.

  • Prolonged Exposure to High-Frequency Loud Sounds - Acoustic trauma or sudden hearing is due to exposure to single and extremely loud noise such as a bomb blast or gunshot. It can also cause ringing sounds in the ear. If there is no damage to the tympanic membrane, this hearing loss usually returns to normal over a few days.

  • Prolonged exposure to loud noises over 85 decibels can contribute to noise-induced hearing loss.

  • Chronic Ear Infections - Children with recurring ear infections are susceptible to hearing loss. Though most children regain their hearing within a month of infection clearance, some lose their hearing permanently.

Less common causes of deafness include:

  • Infectious conditions like meningitis, mumps, chickenpox, cytomegalovirus infection, Lyme disease, and syphilis.

  • Medication side effects (Streptomycin, Aspirin, cancer medications, Ibuprofen, Gentamicin, Furosemide, etc.).

  • Meniere’s disease.

  • Cancers.

  • Brain tumors.

  • Systemic conditions such as hypothyroidism, arthritis, sickle cell disease, diabetes, etc.

  • Congenital abnormalities.

  • Autoimmune disorders.

What Signs Do People With Hearing Impairment Show?

People with varying levels of deafness;

  • Have difficulty speaking over the phone due to reduced hearing.

  • Have difficulty hearing others while in a conversation.

  • Find it hard to listen to music and sounds from the television.

  • Ask people to repeat the words.

  • Stress too much to concentrate on the words while others talk.

How Is Deafness Diagnosed?

Individuals with hearing loss and others surrounding them can initially make out their issue with their difficulty in listening to others. Once they reach a physician’s office, they will be subjected to the following tests to identify the cause of hearing loss.

  • Otoscopy - An otoscope is a device with which they can see the inside of your ear to look for eardrum perforation, foreign objects, fluid, earwax impaction, etc.

  • Tuning Fork Test - A tunic fork is vibrated and placed behind the ear. Your ability to hear the vibrations will be tested.

  • Audiometry - Different tones at different volumes will be directed to one ear at a time via headphones. The level at which hearing becomes diminished is noted.

  • Bone Oscillator Test - A headband is placed on the patient with a small square-like box placed behind the ear. It detects how well the vibrations pass through the ossicles.

Can Hearing Loss Be Treated?

Treatment is available for hearing loss (except sensorineural type), but the effectiveness of the treatment varies with the severity of deafness and the cause of deafness. There is no cure for sensorineural hearing loss, but treatment helps improve the quality of life.

  • Hearing Aids - These are assistive wearable devices that help amplify the sounds reaching the ear to improve hearing. They do not cure deafness permanently but help listen better.

  • Cochlear Implants - If hearing loss is due to problems with the cochlea, then cochlear implants best treat the condition. A microprocessor is placed behind the ear, and a thin electrode is inserted into the cochlea.

People with hearing impairment can benefit from,

  • Sign Language - There are different sign languages unique to parts of the world, such as British sign language, American sign language, Norwegian sign language, etc. Based on your region, you can choose to learn sign language and communicate with people through hand gestures, facial expressions, and body language.

  • Lip Reading - People who lost their hearing ability at some point in their life and those with residual hearing can benefit from lip-reading by closely watching the lip and tongue movements.

What Are Some Tips to Prevent Deafness?

Congenital deafness and deteriorating hearing ability with age cannot be prevented but age-related hearing impairment and acquired hearing loss can be prevented with the following measures.

  1. Avoid putting foreign objects within the ears like safety pins, cotton buds, pencils, etc., for removing any blockage on your own.

  2. Avoid listening to loud music with speakers or headphones. Just keep the volume level comfortable enough to hear (not exceeding 85 dB).

  3. Use high-quality speakers and headphones. The headphones must be noise-canceling so that you would not need to increase the volume due to external noise.

  4. If your work involves exposure to extremely loud noises such as disco jockeys, mills, shooting sports, motor racing, etc., wear ear protective devices such as ear mufflers or earplugs.

  5. If you are taking drugs for any systemic condition, discuss its ototoxic effects and your susceptibility with your doctor.


Living with deafness and suddenly losing the ability to hear is really frustrating and depressing. But there are always ways to improve your hearing and quality of life unless you are born with it. If you or anyone you know suffers from hearing loss of any kind and severity, feel free to contact our specialist below.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Are the Four Types of Deafness?

The four forms of deafness are sensorineural, conductive, mixed (conductive and sensorineural), and auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder (ANSD). The most common type is sensorineural loss. It can be caused by aging, loud noise exposure, injury, disease, certain drugs, or an inherited condition.


Is It Ok to Say Deafness?

Many people who are deaf prefer the terms "deaf" and "hard of hearing" because they believe they are more positive than the term "hearing impaired," which indicates a deficit or that something is flawed that makes a person less than complete.


What Are the Common Signs of Deafness?

Common symptoms include difficulty hearing others and misinterpreting what they say, especially in noisy environments. Requesting that people repeat themselves. Listening to music or watching TV at a louder volume than necessary for other people.


Will a Deaf Person Ever Be Able to Hear Again?

Deaf people can receive and process sounds and speech with cochlear implants. These devices, however, do not restore normal hearing. Instead, they are devices that process and transmit sound and speech to the brain. Hearing aids and other listening devices aid in the treatment of the situation and improve quality of life.


Can Deafness Be Considered a Disability?

Hearing loss is defined as the inability to hear like someone with normal hearing (hearing thresholds of 20 dB or more in both ears). Hearing loss may range from mild to severe to profound. Hearing loss that is 'disabling' is defined as hearing loss that is greater than 35 decibels (dB) in the better-hearing ear.


What Are Tests to Diagnose Deafness?

- Physical examination. The doctor will examine the ear for possible causes of hearing loss, such as earwax or infection-related inflammation.
- General screening tests like the whisper test.
- Tuning fork tests.
- Audiometer tests.


Can Deaf People Understand Sound?

Regardless of their hearing ability, all deaf people know that sounds come from various sources. Deaf people perceive vibration in the same part of the brain that hearing people do, which explains how deaf musicians perceive music and how deaf people enjoy concerts and other musical events.


What Actions Are Considered Impolite to a Deaf Person?

It is considered impolite not to make eye contact when speaking to a deaf person. Deaf people hear with their eyes rather than their ears. People in the deaf community value everything on the face, including one's facial expressions.


What Are the Challenges That Deaf People Face?

Deaf people are frequently isolated because of their age, hearing loss, use of hearing aids, and sign language. Because of stigma, they cannot participate in conversations, making them feel unexpressed, lonely, and socially marginalized. As a result, chronic stress and depression develop. Due to impaired communication, there are fewer educational and job opportunities. Social withdrawal as a result of limited access to services and communication difficulties.


Can Deafness Be Inherited?

A dominant gene mutation that leads to hearing loss can be inherited from either the mother or father. The likelihood of passing this mutation on to the children is one in two. Dominant genes do not affect everyone in the same way. A gene in one family can cause profound deafness in one member and mild deafness in another.


What If Hearing Loss Is Left Untreated?

According to studies, the effects of untreated hearing loss include avoidance or withdrawal from social circumstances. Reduced alertness and increased personal safety risk. Memory loss and difficulty learning new tasks.
Source Article IclonSourcesSource Article Arrow
Dr. Syed Peerzada Tehmid Ul Haque
Dr. Syed Peerzada Tehmid Ul Haque

Otolaryngology (E.N.T)


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