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Hearing Loss

Severe Hearing Loss

What Is Severe Hearing Loss?

Severe hearing loss means you can hear some sounds, but very poorly. You may not be able to hear someone speaking, even if they are using a normal voice. You may be able to hear only very loud sounds.

Hearing loss can happen in many different ways to people of all ages. It’s different for everyone. The key is to work with your health care team to find ways help you make the most of the hearing you have. There are many treatments that can help you or your child enjoy life.


Babies can be born with severe hearing loss, and children and adults can get it at any point in their lives. It can happen suddenly or over many years, in one or both ears, and be brief or long-lasting.

To understand how hearing loss happens, it helps to know how your ear works. Noise travels through the air as sound waves, which vibrate your eardrum and move three tiny bones inside your ear. That causes waves in the fluid that fills your inner ear. Those waves bend tiny hair cells, which are attached to nerves. They pass electrical signals to the main hearing nerve, called the cochlear nerve, which leads to the brain.

Your DNA has many genes that help build the structures involved in hearing. A problem with any of them can mean a baby is born without this sense. In about half of babies born with severe hearing loss, it’s because of a faulty gene. About 30% of babies born with it also have another genetic condition, like Down syndrome.

Babies also can lose their hearing because of a problem in the womb. Pregnant women who take certain medicines, such as the cancer drug thalidomide or drugs for tuberculosis, may have a baby with severe hearing loss. It can also happen if a woman has certain infections, like cytomegalovirus.

You also may lose your hearing as you get older. It can happen because of:

  • Noise. A single very loud noise, like a gunshot or explosion, can damage hearing. So can being around loud noises for a long time, like living next to an airport runway.
  • Diseases. Different conditions can put the ears or nerves involved in hearing at risk, including ear infections, brain tumors, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases, or Meniere’s disease, a disorder of the inner ear.
  • Clogs. Ear canals stopped up with earwax or an object stuck inside can keep you from hearing well. You can also damage your ear if you try to remove it the wrong way.
  • Injury. Head trauma can damage the inside of the ears. So can some sports, like scuba diving or sky diving.
  • Medications. Certain drugs, including some that treat cancer, heart disease, and serious infections, can damage your ear and cause hearing loss. Sometimes, it’s permanent, but in other cases, the problem goes away after you stop taking the medicines.

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