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      Types and causes

      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 the result of 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 ear problems section.

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

      Age-related damage to the cochlea, known as presbycusis, is the single biggest cause of hearing loss. It is the result of a combination of environmental and genetic factors.

      Have you been exposed to loud noise and are finding it difficult to follow conversations over background noise, or have ringing in your ears?

      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 and there is no obvious temporary cause, 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 you should speak to your GP and get a referral to a hospital.

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