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Have you noticed a change in your hearing? Whether you’re finding it increasingly difficult to track conversations or are struggling to hear the TV or radio, there are several different reasons why you might be suffering from hearing loss. But how do you tell if your hearing loss is permanent or temporary? We break down the main types and causes of hearing loss, how to determine the differences between them, and how to minimise your risk.

What are the different types of hearing loss?

It’s important to distinguish between the three different types of hearing loss:

  • Sensorineural hearing loss: the most common type of hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss impacts the signals your inner ear sends to your brain. It’s caused when the nerves and hair cells in the inner ear are damaged, which prevents the transfer of signals to the brain.

  • Conductive hearing loss: this type of hearing loss normally occurs when there is an obstruction in the ear, which could be due to infection, earwax or something else entirely, such as a malformation or foreign object. 

  • Mixed hearing loss: mixed hearing loss is simply a combination of both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss.

Temporary hearing loss

Temporary hearing loss is a loss of hearing that happens only for a short period. More often than not, when the initial cause of the hearing loss is treated, your hearing will return to normal. 

What causes temporary hearing loss?

While hearing loss often occurs gradually over time, there are a number of different issues that can cause temporary or short-term hearing problems (also called a temporary threshold shift):

  • Head trauma: any sort of accident or trauma that affects your head, such as a car accident or sporting injury, can cause short-term hearing loss 

  • A blocked ear canal: when your ear canal is blocked, you may experience temporary hearing loss until it is unblocked. There are several reasons why this happens:​
    • Ear infections: while ear infections typically clear up on their own, any inflammation or infection within your ear canal can cause a change in your hearing. 
    • A buildup of earwax: this can cause a muffled sound, ringing in your ears or earache.
    • A foreign body: just like a buildup of earwax, having an object stuck in your ear can cause a temporary change in your hearing, but it should be restored when the object has been removed.
  • Swimmer’s ear: if you’ve been swimming recently, you might be suffering from swimmer’s ear, an ear infection that causes pain and itching in the outer ear canal, as well as temporary hearing loss.
  • Medications: certain medications, such as malaria treatments and aspirin, can cause temporary hearing loss, so you may need to change your medications to correct the issue. Remember, always speak to your doctor or a medical professional before you stop taking any prescribed medications.

  • Tinnitus: tinnitus symptoms, such as a ringing or humming in the ear, can sometimes cause a temporary loss of hearing.

  • Noise-induced: if you’ve been exposed to a sudden loud noise, such as an explosion, temporary hearing loss is quite common. Normally, noise-induced hearing loss corrects itself within a few hours, but prolonged exposure to loud noise can cause permanent damage. 

How long does temporary hearing loss last?

The length of your hearing loss depends entirely on what’s causing it, but it can last for anything from a few hours to several days. If your temporary hearing loss was caused by a condition such as an infection, you’ll need to first treat the issue to improve your hearing. 

The most important thing is that you don’t leave it too long, so if you are suffering from hearing loss, visit a hearing specialist as soon as possible to address the issue before your hearing deteriorates further.

Permanent hearing loss

Permanent hearing loss, also known as sensorineural hearing loss, cannot be medically or surgically treated and causes irreversible damage to your hearing. Generally, those experiencing permanent hearing loss will require additional hearing support, such as the use of hearing aids. 

What causes permanent hearing loss?

  • Age-related hearing loss: also known as presbycusis, age-related hearing loss is common and typically occurs gradually over time. When it comes to age-related hearing impairment, it’s important to seek support or treatment as, if untreated, it can be a factor in the development of dementia or Alzheimers.

  • Underlying health conditions or malformations: there are a range of health conditions that can damage your hearing, such as Ménière’s disease or trauma, while congenital deformities or malformations, such as narrow or obstructed ear canals, can also cause hearing problems from birth. 

  • Ototoxicity: ear poisoning that occurs after exposure to certain drugs or chemicals, ototoxicity affects the inner ear and impairs hearing and balance. 

  • Prolonged exposure to loud noises: if you’re someone who works in a loud environment, such as in construction or a factory, exposure over time can cause serious and irreversible damage to your ears.

So, how can I tell if hearing loss is permanent or temporary?

There are so many reasons why you might be experiencing hearing loss, but it can be hard to tell if it's just temporary or if it’s a permanent issue. Keeping a note of your symptoms and the degree of your hearing loss is a good way to help you determine the severity of your hearing loss, so you can accurately report it to your audiologist at your appointment. This will help them to determine how your hearing has changed or to highlight any discrepancies.

How to prevent hearing loss

Did you know that prolonged exposure to noises over 85 decibels can damage your hearing over time? In order to reduce your risk of both temporary and permanent hearing loss, there are several things you can do: 

  • Avoid loud noises: from turning down the volume to wearing earplugs, walking away from loud noises to avoiding them altogether, protecting yourself from harmful noise levels is key if you want to prevent hearing loss.

  • Be conscious of medicines: certain medicines, such as large doses of aspirin, can impair your hearing.

  • Know your family history: find out if there’s any history of hearing loss in your family as your genetic makeup can make you more susceptible to loss of hearing.

  • Get your hearing checked regularly: if you’re prone to hearing loss, have underlying hearing issues or work in a noisy environment, it’s a good idea to schedule regular checkups to help prevent further loss.

Need a hand with your hearing loss?

If you think your hearing has changed, it’s a good idea to see a hearing professional who’ll be able to help you determine the best course of action and treatment for your problems. And the earlier hearing loss is picked up, the better your chances of recovery.