Skip to content Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf & Hard of Hearing Persons

Hearing Loss? StartHere . . .

Step 1

The first step is to see your doctor

There are numerous causes of hearing loss, some more common than others:

  • NOISE EXPOSURE - Noise is the chief offender of our hearing, and we live in a noisy world.
  • GENETICS - Hearing loss can be hereditary.
  • MEDICAL - Illnesses and viruses, trauma to the head, certain medications, or tumors can cause hearing loss.

If  your hearing loss cannot be remedied with medical intervention, such as the removal of wax or the treatment of fluid behind the eardrum, the next step is to see an audiologist. (Proceed to step two)

Step 2

Step Two see an audiologist

Make an appointment for a hearing evaluation by a licensed audiologist.  The audiologist will test your hearing to determine if you have a hearing loss.

It’s a good idea to take someone with you since the audiologist will give you a comprehensive hearing evaluation and, if hearing aids are indicated, make recommendations for which hearing aids will work best for your type of hearing loss.

This is a lot of information, so having someone with you to take notes can be helpful later.

You and Your Hearing Health Professional (NVRC PDF Fact Sheet) has detailed information about this process.

Step 3

Learn about types of hearing loss

There are 3 types of hearing loss

  1. Conductive hearing loss means that there is something blocking the sound from reaching the auditory cortex.  It could be wax, it could be fluid behind the ear drum, it could be a foreign body in the ear canal, or even bony growths on the little stapes bone.  Conductive loss tends to be temporary since it can usually be treated medically.
  2. Sensorineural hearing loss, on the other hand,  is permanent.  This type of hearing loss most frequently happens in the cochlea when the hair cells begin to degenerate.
  3. Conductive + Sensorineural - Some individuals have a third type of hearing loss:  a combination of conductive and sensorineural.

When we have our hearing tested, we will learn how much of a hearing loss we have.

  • Mild loss means some speech sounds can be confusing.
  • Moderate loss usually means that it is difficult to understand louder speech.
  • Severe loss will need amplified speech (hearing aid or other devices).
  • Profound loss will make it difficult to understand amplified speech.

Step 4

Understand how your ears work

Your ear is divided into 3 parts:

  • The outer ear (1) functions like a catcher’s mitt, capturing all the sounds of life and funneling them into the ear canal.
  • When the sounds reach the ear drum it vibrates and sends those sounds into the middle ear (2).  Think of the middle ear as an airy echo chamber that houses the 3 tiniest bones in your body – the hammer (Malleus), the anvil (Incus) and the stirrup (more commonly called the Stapes).  Those little bones form a lever system which vibrates with the sounds as they pass through the ear drum and sends those sounds along to the inner ear.
  • The inner ear (3)  houses the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure filled with fluid and thousands of little hair cells.  These hair cells are responsible for how well we hear, and when they degenerate or die off, we start to lose our ability to interpret what we are hearing, especially speech sounds.
  • It’s important to note that sound travels through the cochlea and along the auditory nerve until it reaches its final destination - the auditory cortex of the brain.  Most of us don’t really think about it, but we don’t hear with our ears, we hear in our brain; our ears simply provide the transportation of sound.

To see an open-captioned annimated video on how the ear processes sound, click here.



Resources for Hearing Loss

Here are self-help options to learn more how to cope with a hearing loss: