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Evaluation of hearing loss in adults

Peter C Weber, MD, FACS
Section Editor
Daniel G Deschler, MD, FACS
Deputy Editor
Daniel J Sullivan, MD, MPH


Hearing loss is a common problem that everyone experiences from time to time. Most commonly it occurs when flying or traveling up a mountain, and a full sensation develops in the ears, leading to the feeling of wanting to pop the ears open in order to hear better. Diminished hearing also may occur during an ear infection. These causes of hearing loss are usually short-lived. The other extreme is the permanent sensorineural hearing loss that occurs with aging, which most people experience to some degree [1].

The evaluation of hearing loss in adults will be reviewed here. The etiology and treatment of hearing loss are discussed separately. (See "Etiology of hearing loss in adults" and "Hearing amplification in adults".)


Hearing loss may be classified into three types [2]:

Sensorineural, involving the inner ear, cochlea, or the auditory nerve.

Conductive, involving any cause that in some way limits the amount of external sound from gaining access to the inner ear. Examples include cerumen impaction, middle ear fluid, or ossicular chain fixation (lack of movement of the small bones of the ear).

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Mar 21, 2016.
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