With roughly 45 million adults suffering from hearing loss in the United States alone, this condition should not be ignored. Hearing loss is a complicated disease, and whether you have chronic ear infections, a perforated eardrum or inner ear nerve damage, the University of Chicago Medicine has the expertise you need.

At the UChicago Medicine, our expert team of ear surgeons (otologists/neurotologists), audiologists, nurses and speech-language pathologists are specially trained to treat everything from mild hearing loss to complex ear conditions. With our dedication to world-class ear and hearing health care, ongoing advancements in medicine, and providing education for the public and aspiring health professionals, we set the standard for excellent care. If you are having hearing problems, our specialists can diagnosis your condition and will work with you to find the best solution for your specific condition and personal needs. Our team specializes in:  

  • Adult and pediatric cochlear implantation
  • Audiology and hearing technology
  • Management of chronic ear disease (cholesteatoma)
  • Lateral skull base disorders
  • Aural atresia repair
  • Management of Meniere’s disease
  • Surgically implanted bone conduction devices

Types of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can happen gradually as you age, or can be the cause of an injury, illness or infection that impacts your ears. If you have noticed that your hearing is not as sharp as it used to be, it is important to contract your doctor as soon as possible to determine what type of hearing loss you are experiencing and how severe it may be. Our audiologists perform comprehensive hearing evaluations (audiograms) to characterize the type and severity of hearing loss. 

Hearing loss is defined as one of three types:

Conductive hearing loss results from something blocking the sound conducting mechanism of the ear. This can be due to a buildup of earwax, fluid in the middle ear, a growth of tissue (cholesteatoma) or problems with the small hearing bones (ossicles). Treating conductive hearing loss can range from taking antibiotics to surgical intervention depending on the type and severity of the condition.  

Sensorineural hearing loss is often considered permanent hearing loss because of nerve or inner ear damage caused by advanced age, continued exposure to loud noises, illness, ear trauma and more. Sensorineural hearing loss is typically addressed with hearing aids, but depending on the severity, may treated through surgical or implantable devices, such a cochlear implant.

Mixed hearing loss occurs when someone has hearing issues resulting from both conductive and sensorineural causes. With mixed hearing loss, there is typically a combination of issues that impact the outer, middle and/or inner ears. 

Risks and Causes of Hearing Loss

While hearing loss cannot always be avoided, understanding the risks and causes of hearing loss can help you identify when you may need treatment and/or prevention. Common risks and causes of hearing loss include:

Over time, the little hair and nerve cells in the inner ear (cochlea) can begin to degenerate, resulting in hearing loss. Once these special cells are lost, they cannot grow back.
Earwax can build in the ear canal, and if it is not removed, can eventually limit or block sound to the eardrum.
Your hearing will diminish when an eardrum ruptures or has a perforation. Untreated ruptures and perforations may cause drainage and infection in the ear which can lead to permanent hearing loss.
Frequent, loud noises, whether at work or recreationally, can damage your inner ear and can result in permanent hearing loss.
If you have a family history of hearing loss, you could have a genetic predisposition to hearing loss and may experience hearing loss earlier or more severely than normal.
There are some medications that can cause inner ear damage and/or temporarily lead to hearing loss, including strong antibiotics such as gentamicin, certain chemotherapy drugs and medications like Viagra.
Some diseases or conditions not affiliated with the ear itself can ultimately cause hearing loss, such as meningitis and autoimmune (inflammatory) diseases.

Recognizing Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of hearing loss can be easily missed or ignored. With hearing loss, it is possible that you don’t notice the subtle changes or you might believe the changes are something that will naturally improve over time. The sooner you can identify an issues, the sooner we may be able to start treatment, which can ultimately prevent long-term damage to your hearing. You may be experiencing one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Complain that others sound muffled or not speaking clearly
  • Frequently experiencing tinnitus (hearing ringing in on or more ears)
  • Cannot fully hear conversations or pinpoint words in a crowd
  • Continues to increase the volume on your television, computer, speakers and other devices. 
  • Difficulty hearing or identifying consonants (i.e. s and f, m and n, or p and b)
  • Having to ask other to repeat themselves multiple time, including asking them to speak louder
  • Trouble understanding phone conversations, or prefer one ear over the other for phone conversations

If you experience sudden hearing loss and feel fullness in the ear, this is an emergency and you will need a hearing test as soon as possible to confirm the diagnosis. We want to started treatment soon after you noticed the issue in order to have the best chance of recovering any hearing loss. 

Telemedicine at UChicago Medicine

Doc video chat icon
Schedule a Video Visit

For your convenience and safety, we offer secure and easy virtual visits for most non-urgent visit types. Our care providers can assess your symptoms, make a diagnosis, recommend treatment and send prescriptions to your pharmacy.

Phone appointment icon
Get a Second Opinion Online

Whether you are facing a complex health issue or difficult treatment decision, getting a second opinion can help you make an informed decision about your care. Get an online second opinion from one of our experts without having to leave home.

Find a Ear and Hearing Loss Location Near You

Request an Appointment

* Required Field

Hearing Loss