What causes hearing loss?

Written by: Mr Sean Blaney
Published: | Updated: 22/01/2019
Edited by: Lisa Heffernan

Hearing loss and deafness affects one in six people in the UK. The loss can be temporary or permanent and can occur in both children and adults. Hearing loss can essentially be considered as a failure of sound signals to reach the brain.

There are two types of hearing loss. The first is a conductive hearing loss in which sound transmission to the inner ear is at fault. The second is a sensorineural loss, in which either the inner ear or auditory nerve is damaged. A conductive hearing loss can be temporary or permanent whilst a sensorineural hearing loss is usually permanent.

Otolaryngologist Mr Sean Blaney tells us about the causes behind hearing loss and whether or not they can be reversed.

What causes hearing loss in one ear?

The following can lead to conductive hearing loss in one ear:

  • Wax impaction
  • Infection
  • Glue ear
  • A perforated eardrum
  • Problems with one of the three little bones in the middle ear

Causes of a single-sided sensorineural hearing loss include:

  • Excessive noise exposure to one ear
  • Infections, illnesses and hereditary conditions

Single-sided sensorineural deafness often requires MR imaging to exclude benign swellings, such as a vestibular schwannoma (tumour) at the inner ear/brain interface which have the potential to cause problems as a result of their location.

Can a loss of hearing be reversed?

A conductive hearing loss can often be reversed either in the clinic by micro-suction of impacted wax from the external auditory canal or in the operating theatre by aspiration of middle ear fluid and the insertion of a grommet or, by surgically repairing the eardrum. Operations on the three bones of hearing within the middle ear can also be undertaken to restore the transmission of sound to the inner ear.

Sensorineural hearing loss is often best managed with a hearing aid however specific causes such as sudden deafness can be managed medically in the clinic. Profound sensorineural deafness can now be treated surgically with the advent of the cochlear implant.

Can hearing loss cause vertigo?

No. Hearing loss does not cause vertigo but both symptoms can be related. Indeed both symptoms can also be associated with tinnitus or ringing in the ears. Conditions in which the symptoms of hearing loss and vertigo come to the fore include labyrinthitis, usually caused by an infection, and Ménière’s disease. The treatment of vertigo can either be directed at the symptom itself or at the underlying cause.

Are hearing loss and dementia-related?

Several scientific studies have demonstrated a relationship between untreated hearing loss and dementia. Older people who have significant hearing loss but fail to correct it with a hearing aid appear to experience a greater rate in cognitive decline than those with normal hearing or those who wear a hearing aid. Uncorrected deafness in the elderly can lead to social isolation and a lack of mental stimulation, in return this lack of stimulation can accelerate symptoms of dementia.

If you are worried about your hearing and you have questions about how to improve it or prevent deafness, visit otolaryngologist Mr Sean Blaney who specialises in hearing loss.

By Mr Sean Blaney
Otolaryngology / ENT

Mr Sean Blaney is a highly experienced consultant otolaryngologist/ENT surgeon based in London. Specialising in all types of hearing loss, ear disease, and endoscopic sinus surgery, he also deals with all aspects of paediatric ENT. Mr Blaney is a graduate of the University of London, and later underwent postgraduate training in all aspects of otolaryngology, training in London, Brighton, and Cambridge, before undertaking a fellowship in Otology and Paediatric ENT in Australia. He also holds a PhD in comparative anatomy. With all this under his belt, he joined the staff at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospitals in 2001, as an ENT consultant. 

Since then, he has become a leading figure in his field, teaching regularly in postgraduate ENT courses, publishing research, and working at various centres in London, including practices on Harley Street and at the Shard.

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