Some forms of hearing loss aren’t reversible, but many are. Talk to your doctor about what type you have so you’ll know what to expect.
Earwax Buildup: Reversible
Earwax helps clean and protect the ears. Normally, your ears will clear it out on their own. If you use cotton swabs to clean them, you may be pushing the wax in deeper. This can make it gather and get stuck. That’ll make it hard for you to hear.
It’s not hard to treat that buildup and get your hearing back. Home treatments work well in most cases. Put a few drops of mineral oil or baby oil in the ear to help wax work its way out. You can also buy drops at the drugstore that soften ear wax.
See a doctor if home treatments don’t work or if you have diabetes. They can remove the wax safely with medical tools. Or they might flush it out with water or saline.
Ear Infections: Reversible
If you have one, you may notice mild hearing loss, as if you were wearing earplugs. An infection usually happens when fluid gets stuck in your middle ear. That’s because the fluid makes it easier for bacteria to grow (as in swimmer's ear). Viruses can also cause hearing loss.
Some ear infections get better on their own. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat it.
If you or someone you know gets these infections often, ear tubes -- small cylinders that keep the middle ear open -- can treat them, especially in children.
Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss: Potentially Reversible
This happens when you lose all or part of your hearing (usually in just one ear) all at once or over a few days. About half of people with the condition regain their hearing on their own, but sometimes it doesn’t come back completely. It usually gets better in a week or two.
It is critical to see an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist when this happens so treatment can begin right away. If you can't get to an ENT that day, go to urgent care or the ER.
This type of hearing loss can be treated with corticosteroid pills or shots.
Age-Related Hearing Loss: Not Reversible
It’s common for people to lose hearing gradually as they age. Because it happens slowly, you might not notice a difference at first. You may first pick up on it if you have trouble hearing someone on the phone or if you have to ask people to repeat what they say.
Most of the time it's caused by natural changes to the inner ear as you get older. A lifetime of listening to loud noises, like playing music through headphones, can also cause hearing trouble.
Once noise damages the hairs in the ear that help you hear, they don’t grow back. But there are ways to work around age-related hearing loss, like hearing aids.
Talk With Your Doctor to Improve Your Hearing
They may be able to reverse the problem or keep it from getting worse.
They may refer you to a specialist, such as:
- An audiologist, who specializes in hearing loss treatment and testing
- An ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor, also called an otorhinolaryngologist
- A hearing aid expert who does tests and fits the devices