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Hearing loss usually comes on gradually but may develop suddenly. The symptoms may include:

  • Decreased ability to hear any of the following:
    • Higher pitched sounds
    • Lower pitched sounds
    • All sounds
    • Speech when there is background noise
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Ringing, hissing, or roaring sounds in the ears ( tinnitus )
  • Some sounds seem too loud
  • Problems with balance
  • Ear pain
  • Feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear (eg, with earwax or fluid)

Some people may not realize that they have hearing loss, especially if it develops over a number of years or if it happens in one ear. Common experiences where people begin to notice changes include:

  • Difficulty hearing on the telephone
  • Difficulty understanding speech when there is background noise (eg, in a restaurant or crowd or at a party)
  • Difficulty following a conversation when two or more people are talking at once
  • Misunderstanding what other people are saying and responding inappropriately
  • Misundertanding words that have sound similar
  • Asking people to repeat what they said or speak more slowly, loudly, and clearly
  • Difficulty understanding the speech of women and children, which is higher pitched
  • Getting complaints from others that you have the TV or radio volume too high
  • Withdrawing from conversations because you have trouble hearing

Symptoms of deafness or hearing loss in infants that may be noted:

  • 0-3 months:
    • Does not react to loud sounds or voices
    • Does not turn head toward you when you talk
  • 3-6 months:
    • Does not turn toward a new sound
    • Does not respond to changes in tone of voice
    • Does not imitate own voice or make babbling or cooing sounds
    • Does not respond to rattles or musical toys
  • 6-10 months:
    • Does not respond to own name, another person’s voice, or telephone ringing
    • Does not make babbling sounds or know words for common things
    • Does not look at things when someone talks about them
  • 10-15 months:
    • Does not experiment with own voice
    • Does not imitate easy words or sounds
    • Does not focus on common objects or familiar people when asked
    • Delayed speech
  • 15-18 months:
    • Does not know or say even a small number of words
    • Does not follow simple directions
    • Delayed speech

Revision Information

  • Hearing loss. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/invoke.cfm?id=DS00172 . Accessed August 10, 2005.

  • Hearing loss. NIH SeniorHealth, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website. Available at: http://nihseniorhealth.gov/hearingloss/hearinglossdefined/01.html . Accessed August 10, 2005.

  • Hearing, speech, and language problems in children. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website. Available at: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/silence.asp . Accessed August 12, 2005.