Understanding a Hearing Loss or Deafness Diagnosis and Your Next Steps

Ability Central explains the diagnostic process for hearing loss and deafness, treatment options available, and what to expect at each stage.

By Ability Central

17 August, 2023

A Deaf Arab woman works in her office from home, using an assistive hearing device

If Ability Central’s 8 Deaf Quick Facts and Deaf Symptoms articles prompted you to see a doctor, you’ve come to the right place to understand the diagnosis process and next steps. This article will address the following:

  • What are hearing tests, and what do they tell the doctor?
  • What is Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL)?
  • What is Cogan’s Syndrome?
  • What can be done to treat hearing loss and deafness?
  • How do I learn more about long-term strategies to cope with hearing loss and deafness?


What are hearing tests, and what do they tell the doctor?

Doctors use many different tests to diagnose hearing loss or deafness. They may include the following: 

  • The doctor will likely perform a physical exam of the ear for possible causes, such as earwax or inflammation from an infection. The doctor will also look for any structural issues.
  • A whisper test is when the patient covers one ear at a time to see how well they hear words spoken at various volumes.
  • A tuning fork test may also be used. Tuning forks are two-pronged metal instruments that produce sounds when struck. This evaluation may also reveal where in your ear the damage has occurred.
  • Audiometer tests require the patient to wear earphones and hear sounds and words directed to each ear. Each tone is repeated at faint levels to find the quietest sound you can hear.
  • If testing reveals hearing loss, another type of headset, a bone vibrator, may be used to determine hearing by bone conduction. This device sends sounds directly to the inner ear. If the sounds are heard better by bone conduction, the hearing loss is conductive and is likely located in the outer or middle ear. If the sounds are heard equally well with the earphones and the bone vibrator, the hearing loss is sensorineural. A combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss also may be present; this is called mixed hearing loss.

The doctor may use additional testing to determine the full level of hearing loss. 


What is Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL)?

Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL), or sudden deafness, is a rapid loss of hearing. What doctors know about SSHL is:

  • SSHL can happen to a person all at once or over a period of up to 3 days. 
  • It affects hearing in only one ear in nine out of ten people.  
  • SSHL can affect anyone, but it happens most often to people between the ages of 30 and 60. 
  • Approximately 4,000 new cases of SSHL occur each year in the United States. 

To learn more about SSHL, see ALDA.org.


What is Cogan’s Syndrome?

Cogan’s syndrome is a rare, rheumatic disease characterized by inflammation of the ears and eyes. While the cause is unknown, it is thought to be an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks tissue in the eye and ear. It can lead to vision difficulty, hearing loss, and dizziness.


What can be done to treat hearing loss and deafness?

Hearing loss is not reversible, but it is commonly treated in three ways:

  • Some types of hearing loss can be treated with surgery, including abnormalities of the eardrum or bones of hearing (ossicles). If you've had repeated infections with persistent fluid, your doctor may insert small tubes that help your ears drain.
  • If your hearing loss is due to damage to your inner ear, a hearing aid can be helpful. An audiologist can discuss with you the potential benefits of a hearing aid and fit you with a device. 
  • If you have more severe hearing loss and gain limited benefit from conventional hearing aids, then a cochlear implant may be an option. A cochlear implant bypasses damaged or nonworking parts of your inner ear and directly stimulates the hearing nerve. 


How do I learn more about long-term strategies to manage hearing loss and deafness?

There is a lot of support for adults who are recently diagnosed with hearing loss or deafness. In Long-term Support and Planning for People Who Are Deaf, Ability Central breaks down these strategies, including support groups and support services


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