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Fact Sheet: Hearing

What’s the Issue?

Our ears are designed to let us hear all of the world’s sounds. Most people don’t realize it, but the ears are fully developed at birth. Even before birth, growing infants can pick up different noises outside their mother’s womb. Our ears also play an important role in maintaining balance.

Hearing loss can occur for a variety of reasons. Some people are born with hearing problems; others develop them later in life. Different things, including infections, drugs, loud noises and head injuries, can injure our ears.

Tinnitus is a condition in which a person hears noises coming from inside his or her head. It is not a disease, but rather a symptom caused by different medical conditions including age-related hearing loss and ear injury.

Why Should I Care?

Hearing loss is the third most prevalent chronic condition among older people. Studies have shown that roughly one in two Americans will experience some degree of hearing loss after the age of 65.

Certain medications including cancer drugs can cause damage to the ears. Having high blood pressure and high cholesterol can hurt the inner ear and lead to permanent hearing problems.

Sometimes, bony structures grow in middle ear and block that part of the ear from doing its job. This condition is called otosclerosis. It is more common in middle aged women than men and can cause hearing loss. Surgery is often required to correct the problem.

What Can I Do?

When it comes to your health, don’t forget about your ears! Women should have their ears checked by a specialist at least once every five to 10 years. Once you turn 50, you should go in for a check-up every three years. Children need their ears checked more often, especially those prone to ear infections.

People can have hearing problems for a long time without realizing it. If you notice a sudden change in your ability to hear, a need to turn up the volume on your stereo or TV, or a feeling that others are mumbling, it may be time to seek medical help.

More Resources

Last Update: August 2004

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