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Bilateral hearing loss

Learn the causes & symptoms of bilateral hearing loss and available treatments.

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What is bilateral hearing loss?

Millions of people live with hearing loss—but each case is unique. For some people, it only happens in one ear, but when there’s a loss of hearing in both ears, that’s called “bilateral” hearing loss. Learn about the unique attributes and concerns associated with bilateral hearing loss, as well as how it is diagnosed and treated. 

Simply put, bilateral hearing loss is hearing loss that occurs in both ears, as opposed to hearing loss that happens in one ear (unilateral hearing loss). It’s a condition that affects people of all ages and can have different sources and characteristics. If you think you or a friend or family member might have bilateral hearing loss, it’s important to get a hearing test done with a professional as soon as possible. Treating hearing loss early can have numerous positive effects on both mental and physical health.

Bilateral hearing loss symptoms

The characteristic symptom is having difficulty hearing. You might perceive sounds as muffled, think that people are mumbling, or miss some sounds altogether (often those at higher frequencies). Asking people to repeat themselves often and turning up the volume on the TV louder than usual are good indications that you need to have your hearing checked. 

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Types of bilateral hearing loss

Bilateral hearing loss can occur in different combinations of types (sensorineural, conductive or mixed) and degrees (mild, moderate, severe or profound). A hearing care professional will be able to determine the type of loss you have during a hearing exam

Bilateral sensorineural hearing loss occurs when damage to the delicate anatomy of your inner ear disrupts the communication between your ears and your brain. The damage could be to the auditory nerve or to the tiny hair cells of the cochlea in your inner ear. 

Bilateral conductive hearing loss is due to problems in the outer or middle ear that block sounds from moving—or being conducted—farther into the ear. The blockages can be from overproduction of earwax, foreign objects or a malformation of ear tissue.

Bilateral hearing loss causes

Bilateral sensorineural hearing loss causes can vary widely. It might be linked to your genetics, work or hobbies, illness or injury, or even certain medications you take. 

Sensorineural hearing loss is one type of genetic hearing loss. You can inherit diseases that cause hearing issues from one or both of your parents. Hearing loss genetic testing can determine if this is the case. 

Medicines that can cause hearing loss are categorized as "ototoxic". These medications might be prescribed to treat cancer or infections, but they also include drugs used to treat several common illnesses. If you’re regularly taking medications and have concerns about hearing loss, talk to your doctor about whether your prescriptions or over-the-counter medications might affect you

Overexposure to loud noise is one of the most well-known bilateral sensorineural hearing loss causes. Noise-induced hearing loss is often seen among people whose work environments or hobbies expose them to high-decibel noises regularly and for extended periods of time. 

Injuries—including eardrum perforation, whiplash, head trauma, and more—are another common culprit on the list of bilateral sensorineural or conductive hearing loss causes. 

Can ear infections cause hearing loss? Absolutely. If they are very severe or left untreated, ear infections can cause damage to the middle or inner ear, affecting the ability to hear. Children are particularly susceptible to ear infection hearing loss, but it’s crucial to properly treat infections at any age to protect your hearing. 

The most common bilateral sensorineural hearing loss cause is age-related hearing loss, also known as presbycusis.

Is bilateral hearing loss a disability?

Hearing loss that meets specific criteria is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To qualify for benefits, the average hearing treshold in the better ear needs to be 90 decibels or higher, as demonstrated by an air conduction test. In the better ear, the hearing threshold needs to be 60 decibels or higher, as demonstrated by a bone conduction test. Additionally, your word recognition score in the better ear needs to be 40% or lower.

You will need a professional hearing test and diagnosis to confirm the criteria for your specific benefit program.

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If you experience any off the possible signs of mixed hearing loss, be sure to schedule a free hearing exam with a Miracle-Ear hearing specialist.

Bilateral hearing loss diagnosis

To diagnose bilateral hearing loss, you need to have your hearing tested. You can start with an online test, but a full diagnosis that explains the scope of your hearing loss can only be done by a professional

You can take a free online hearing test to help determine whether you need to see a professional. If the test indicates potential hearing loss, schedule an appointment.

An in-person hearing test with a professional is the only way to get a full diagnosis of bilateral hearing loss. Over the course of about an hour, your hearing care professional will perform exams and a variety of tests to determine the specifics of your case. Learn more about what to expect at a hearing exam here.

One of the tests you’ll do is called pure-tone audiometry, also known as air conduction testing, which measures your hearing sensitivity. During this test, you will hear sounds at various pitches and frequencies and be asked to respond when you hear those sounds

Your hearing care professional will also perform a bone conduction test, using a small device to send gentle vibrations (tones) through your skull to your inner ear. This test will help to determine if there are any issues in your outer or middle ear. 

During a speech audiometry test, your hearing care professional will measure your speed reception threshold (SRT) which is the lowest sound level you can hear speech, perform a speech discrimination test, which is the ability to discriminate between different sounds of speech, and conduct speech-in-noise testing.

The different components of speech audiometry measure how loud speech must be for you to hear it, how you are able to understand speech at a normal listening level and your ability to hear sounds in background noise.

Can bilateral hearing loss be cured?

This is dependent on the type of bilateral hearing loss you have. Generally, conductive hearing loss can be treated with either medication or surgery. Sensorineural hearing loss typically requires the use of hearing aids, which, when utilized, can often improve your quality of life.  

Bilateral hearing loss treatment

If you’re diagnosed with bilateral hearing loss, there’s some good news: There are more—and better—options for treating your hearing loss today than ever before. While statistics show that most people wait seven to 10 years to treat hearing loss, getting started early benefits your hearing health and mental and overall physical health, too. 

Hearing aids are a popular and effective treatment for mild to severe bilateral hearing loss. Because your hearing loss might be different in each ear, your hearing care professional will help you find hearing aids that can accommodate the differences and program them precisely to give you the best sound. Book an appoitnment at a Miracle-Ear location to learn more about hearing aid options and take the first step toward better hearing. 

Auditory training is an activity that helps to train your brain to improve its interpretation of sounds. You can find auditory training exercises online or via different apps. Your hearing care professional might recommend auditory training in conjunction with hearing aids or cochlear implants.

A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that uses electrodes implanted in the cochlea of the inner ear. The implant directly stimulates the auditory nerve, overriding damage that has led to hearing loss. Cochlear implants are for people with severe to profound hearing loss and who do not benefit from standard hearing aids. Following the surgical placement of the implant, you will need to go through therapy to learn or remaster your sense of hearing.

If you have bilateral hearing loss, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Millions of Americans and people worldwide have it, and researchers are constantly working to improve treatment options with ever-smarter technology. Getting treated and improving your hearing is a life-changing decision that will affect your health for years to come and even strengthen your relationships. Get started with a hearing test and a consultation with a hearing expert at Miracle-Ear.

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