What is Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss is the third most common medical condition in the United States, after arthritis and heart disease. Hearing loss may occur to anyone, at any age, and ranges from degrees of mild to profound.

For older Americans, presbycusis (age-related hearing loss) is a fairly common experience. Changes happen naturally in the inner ear as we age, and while this process is gradual over the years, it may lead to changes in a person’s personality and cognitive abilities.

Prevalence of Hearing Loss

According to the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), about 20% of Americans – 48 million people – report some degree of hearing loss. The statistics rise with age: approximately one-third of Americans age 65 and 50% of Americans age 75 and older experience hearing loss.

In the workforce, approximately 60% of workers experience hearing loss across a wide range of industries from academics to factory work. In children, two or three of every 1,000 are hard of hearing or deaf, while approximately 30 school children per 1,000 have a hearing loss. Additionally, 60% of veterans returning from combat zones report cases of hearing loss and tinnitus.


of Americans
report some degree
of hearing loss.


of Americans age 75+
experience hearing loss

Signs of Hearing Loss

Because hearing loss is an invisible condition, we only see its effects. Below are the signs of hearing loss, adapted from the HLAA. People experiencing hearing loss will:

  • Ask people to repeat what they say
  • Have trouble hearing in groups
  • Think others mumble
  • Fail to hear someone talking from behind
  • Turn up the volume on TV and car radio
  • Have difficulty on the phone
  • Have trouble hearing the alarm clock
  • Have difficulty hearing at the movies
  • Avoid noisy parties and restaurants
  • Withdraw from social situations


Conductive Hearing Loss

What’s Wrong

Outer or middle ear structures such as eardrum or 3 middle ear bones don’t function correctly.

Potential Causes

  • Conditions associated with middle ear problems such as middle ear infections, or otosclerosis
  • Head injury that damages middle ear bones
  • Birth defects

Degree and Symptoms

  • May range from mild to moderately-severe hearing loss
  • Other voices may seem softer; your own voice may sound louder (like you are listening with your ears plugged)

Treatment Options

Often treated with medical intervention, such as Pressure Equalization (PE) tubes for middle ear infections

Depending on degree of hearing loss, may be treated with hearing aids or Baha® System

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

What’s Wrong

Structures located in the inner ear (cochlea, auditory nerve system) don’t function correctly.

Potential Causes

  • Heredity/genetics
  • Noise induced hearing loss
  • Head injury
  • Certain medications (damage inner ear hair cells)
  • Illness (measles, mumps, meningitis, Ménière’s disease)
  • Normal aging process
  • Birth defects
  • Tumors in the auditory nerve pathway

Degree and Symptoms

  • May range from mild to profound hearing loss
  • Sounds are not only softer, but may seem muffled or distorted, making it difficult to separate one sound from another (such as speech in a noisy setting)

Treatment Options

Depending on the degree of hearing loss, most often treated with hearing aids.

Severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss may be treated with a cochlear implant.

Profound sensorineural hearing loss in only one ear sometimes called single sided deafness may be treated with the Baha System.

Mixed Hearing Loss

What’s Wrong

Combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing losses.

Potential Causes

A combination of outer and/or middle ear disorders and damage to the structures of the inner ear (cochlea) and/or auditory nerve pathway.

Degree and Symptoms

  • May range from mild to profound degree of hearing loss
  • Sounds may be both softer in volume and more difficult to understand (distorted)

Treatment Options

Depending on the degree of hearing loss, may be treated with hearing aids or Baha System.

Unilateral Profound Sensorineural

(Single-Sided Deafness, SSD)

What’s Wrong

Sensorineural deafness in one ear, while the other ear has good hearing. If the good ear has hearing within the normal limits, the condition is called single-sided deafness.

Potential Causes

  • Sudden deafness (rapid hearing loss of unknown cause)
  • Birth defects
  • Tumors of the auditory nerve
  • Head injury
  • Diseases

Degree and Symptoms

  • Severe to profound hearing loss/deafness in only one ear
  • Impaired ability to tell the direction a sound is coming from
  • Difficulty understanding speech on the deaf ear side, especially in a noisy room

Treatment Options

Depending on the degree of hearing loss, may be treated with CROS or BI-CROS hearing aid or the Baha System.