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      What causes hearing loss and deafness?

      Hearing loss and deafness are the result of sound signals not reaching the brain due to a problem in the hearing system. There are two main types of hearing loss, depending on where the problem lies:

      • Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the hair cells inside the inner ear or damage to the hearing nerve (or both). It changes your ability to hear quiet sounds and reduces the quality of the sound that you hear. It is permanent.
      • Conductive hearing loss happens when sounds cannot pass from your outer ear to your inner ear, often because of a blockage such as ear wax. Sounds become quieter and sometimes sound muffled. This hearing loss can be temporary or permanent. Read more about the conditions that can cause it in our .

      It's also possible to have both types – this is known as mixed hearing loss.

      This section looks at the different causes of sensorineural hearing loss. You can find out more about the conditions that cause conductive hearing loss in the ear problems section.

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      Age-related damage to the inner ear is the single biggest cause of hearing loss.

      Exposure to loud noise is the second biggest cause of hearing loss, after age-related damage to the inner ear.

      If you are deaf or if hearing loss runs in your family, genetic information may help identify the cause of your condition and whether you are likely to have a child who is deaf.

      If you have a sudden hearing loss in one or both ears, it's important to see an ear, nose and throat specialist urgently so you can benefit from treatment straight away.

      Some prescription and over-the-counter drugs are associated with hearing loss so, if you are on medication and experience hearing loss, balance problems or tinnitus, you should see your doctor to see if there may be a link.

      Some hearing loss is caused by an acoustic neuroma – a benign tumour that presses on your balance and hearing nerves. It's treatable, so speak to your GP.

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