Hearing loss and deafness

Introduction

Photo of a baby's ear
PantherMedia / Birgit Korber

People who have hearing loss are only able to hear some of the speech and sounds around them. If they can hardly hear anything, or can't hear anything at all, they are considered to be deaf. Deaf people may be able to hear a few sounds, but can't understand speech.

Although hearing loss and deafness affect people of all ages, these problems are particularly common in older people. Hearing loss can be caused by various things and may be permanent or temporary. The type and severity of hearing loss will influence what kind of treatment is needed, what you can do about the problem yourself, and how the symptoms can be managed in everyday life.

The treatment options include hearing aids, speech therapy and cochlear implants (electronic hearing aids).

Causes

Loud sounds can damage the eardrum, the middle ear and/or the inner ear. This kind of damage is usually temporary, but some hearing loss may be permanent. Chronic hearing loss can also be caused by less loud sounds if you are regularly exposed to them.

Hearing problems at birth (congenital hearing loss) are rare: Fewer than 3 out of 1,000 newborns have a moderate or severe hearing problem. Most of them hear a bit worse than other newborns, but are not deaf. Hearing loss can also develop in childhood following an illness, such as repeated or severe middle ear infections.

The exact causes of age-related hearing loss aren't known. Changes in the inner ear and brain are thought to play a role.

Screening

In Germany and other countries, babies are routinely given hearing tests immediately after birth in order to detect congenital hearing loss as early as possible. If babies can't hear properly, their hearing may be permanently affected. It might then take them longer than other children to learn to talk.

If a hearing impairment is discovered, treatment can be started as soon as possible. This can help improve the child’s early language development.

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Phoniatrie und Pädaudiologie (DGPP). S2k-Leitlinie: Periphere Hörstörungen im Kindesalter. AWMF-Registernr.: 049-010. September 2013.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. informedhealth.org can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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Please note that we do not provide individual advice on matters of health. You can read about where to find help and support in Germany in our information “How can I find self-help groups and information centers?

Updated on November 30, 2017
Next planned update: 2021

Authors/Publishers:

Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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