What is deafness?

People who suffer from hearing loss do not hear as well as someone whose hearing falls into the normal range. Normal hearing thresholds are around 0-25 decibels. Degree of hearing loss can range from mild, moderate, severe, or profound and can affect one or both ears. People with profound hearing loss cannot hear a sound that is any lower than 95 decibels or more, and typically have little to no hearing. These people may be candidates for cochlear implants. People who suffer from deafness are most often considered to have profound hearing loss. Any person who is deaf cannot understand speech through hearing. 
Many people who are deaf use sign language to communicate. Deafness can occur from birth or can be acquired for a variety of different reasons. Genetics, complications at birth, and certain infections are just some examples of things that can cause hearing loss. Some people suffering from deafness may benefit from hearing aids while others may not. Prompt diagnosis and intervention for children with hearing loss/deafness is very important so that maximum educational and linguistic outcomes are achieved and sign language can be taught at an early age to the child and their family. 
American Sign Language (ASL) is the language that encompasses the deaf culture in the U.S. Deaf culture is the term use to describe the set of values, traditions, and beliefs held by the deaf community
There are three different types of hearing loss:
  • Conductive hearing loss: Vibrations are unable to pass from the outer ear to the inner ear. 
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: Hearing loss is caused by a problem with the function of the inner ear, the cochlea, the auditory nerve, or brain damage. This type is usually caused by damage to the hair cells in the cochlea. 
  • Mixed hearing loss: A combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. 
Different types of deafness include:
  • Pre-lingual deafness: Being unable to hear partially or completely before being able to vocalize or understand speech. In these cases, people are often born with a congenital condition that caused their deafness or developed deafness/hearing loss during infancy. 
  • Post-lingual deafness: Being unable to hear partially or completely after acquiring spoken language. These people develop deafness/hearing loss later in life possibly due to a certain medication, infection, or trauma. 
  • Unilateral deafness: Deafness or hearing loss in just one ear. 
  • Bilateral deafness: Deafness or hearing loss in both ears. 
Risk factors
  • Infections such as mumps, measles, rubella, meningitis, cytomegalovirus, and chronic otitis media
  • Use of ototoxic medicines in expecting mothers and babies 
  • Complications at the time of birth such as asphyxia, jaundice, low birth weight, and prematurity
  • Aging: As people age, the hair cells in the cochlea can sometimes lose their ability to function and hearing can progressively get worse. 
  • Exposure to loud noise
  • Heredity; genetics may make one more susceptible to hearing loss or damage. 
  • Certain chemotherapy drugs
When diagnosing deafness, doctors will often look at one’s medical history as well as their family’s medical history. A physical exam will also be done. 
Some diagnostic tests that may be done when detecting hearing loss/deafness include:
  • General screening tests which may include the person covering one ear at a time while the doctor sees how well they can hear certain sounds at different volumes. 
  • Tuning fork tests use two pronged, metal instruments that help doctors detect hearing loss. They can also help tell whether the hearing loss is caused by damage to the vibrating parts of the middle ear, sensors or nerves in the inner ear, or both. 
  • Audiometer tests are conducted by an audiologist and involve listening to different tones, one ear at a time, to determine how much one can hear. 
  • Bone oscillator test detects how well vibrations are passed through the three bones in the inner ear called the ossicles. 
  • Routine screening of children involves testing children’s hearing when they start school and then again at 6,8, and 10 years old. These tests are often performed at school and children with abnormal results are referred for further testing. 
  • Otoacoustic emissions test is a test for newborns that involves putting a small probe in the outer ear that emits sounds and then checks for echoes bouncing back from the ear. In cases where there are no echoes, more tests will be carried out to see if the child has a hearing problem. 
* People suffering from hearing loss/deafness may be referred to an audiologist. An audiologist can figure out the type and degree of hearing loss one has and if they would benefit from a hearing aid. An otolaryngologist (ENT) specializes in treatment of the ear, nose, and throat. They may also be helpful in the diagnosis and management of hearing loss/deafness.*
Treatment for deafness and hearing loss depends on the type and why it occurred. For certain types of hearing loss there is no cure, but there are many tools and management strategies available that allow people suffering from deafness to lead quality lives.
Potential treatments and management strategies for hearing loss and deafness include:
  • Cochlear implants 
  • Hearing aids
  • Lip reading
  • Sign language 
  • Surgical procedures 
  • 360 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss
  • 60% of childhood hearing loss is due to preventable causes
  • Greater than 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents
  • Approximately 2-3 out of every 1,000 children in the U.S. are born with a detectable hearing loss in one or both ears. 
about deafness

  • "Deafness and hearing loss." WHO | Media Centre. World Health Organization, Nov. 2017. Web. 19 Sep. 2017.
  • "Hearing loss." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 03 Sep. 2015. Web. 19 Sep. 2017.
  • “Deafness and hearing loss: Causes, symptoms, and treatments.” MedicalNewsToday. Healthline Media, 01 Sep. 2017. Web. 19 Sep. 2017. 
  • “How can I understand my hearing test results?” Healthy Hearing, n.d. Web. 19 Sep. 2017. 
  • “American Deaf Culture.” Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center. Gallaudet University, n.d. Web. 19 Sep. 2017.
  • “Diagnosing Hearing Loss.” Hearing Loss Association of America, n.d. Web. 19 Sep. 2017. 
  • “Quick Statistics About Hearing.” National Institutes of Health U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), 15 Dec. 2016. Web. 19 Sep. 2017. 


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