Topic updated: April 2013

Hearing Disorders

Hearing Loss Defined

Hearing loss is a common problem caused by noise, aging, disease, and heredity. Hearing is a complex sense involving both the ear's ability to detect sounds and the brain's ability to interpret those sounds, including the sounds of speech. Factors that determine how much hearing loss will negatively affect a person’s quality of life include

Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults. Approximately 17 percent, or 36 million, of American adults report some degree of hearing loss.

There is a strong relationship between age and reported hearing loss: 18 percent of American adults 45-64 years old, 30 percent of adults 65-74 years old, and 47 percent of adults 75 years old, or older, have a hearing impairment.

Men are more likely to experience hearing loss than women.

People with hearing loss may find it hard to have a conversation with friends and family. They may also have trouble understanding a doctor's advice, responding to warnings, and hearing doorbells and alarms.

Hearing loss comes in many forms. It can range from a mild loss in which a person misses certain high-pitched sounds, such as the voices of women and children, to a total loss of hearing. It can be hereditary or it can result from disease, trauma, certain medications, or long-term exposure to loud noises.

There are two general categories of hearing loss.

Read the rest of this article, and related materials from the National Library of Medicine's NIH Senior Health site.

illustration of sound waves reaching the ear

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