What affects our hearing?

Causes of hearing impairment.

Hearing impairment can occur for many reasons, ranging from ear infections to sudden hearing loss, from exposure to excessive noise to simple aging. Experts distinguish between two main types of hearing loss, based on where in the ear the cause of the hearing impairment lies.

Damage to the outer or middle ear that affects how sound waves are transmitted is called “conductive hearing loss”. People with this type of hearing loss can generally still follow conversations well, but can only hear certain frequencies above a certain volume.

With sensorineural hearing loss, on the other hand, the sensory cells in the inner ear or the auditory nerve are damaged, so acoustic signals no longer reach the brain clearly. In either case, it is important to have an audiologist or an ENT specialist do an examination.


Hearing loss caused by inflammation (outer or middle ear).

Conductive hearing loss can be caused by many other factors, such as a defect of the eardrum or a break in the ossicular chain. But there’s good news: once a medical assessment has been performed, hearing systems can compensate for the damage very effectively.


Sudden hearing loss (inner ear).

Sudden hearing loss refers to situations where the person suffers hearing loss within a few minutes. This condition is frequently caused by stress, and may be either mild or so profound that the person loses their hearing almost completely. In any case, it is important to conduct a thorough examination of the ear. If hearing loss persists even after medical treatment, it can be compensated with the help of a hearing system.


Age-related hearing loss (inner ear).

Over the course of our lives, the hair cells in the cochlea progressively lose functionality. The result is gradual-onset hearing loss, beginning in the high-frequency range. Hearing systems can help offset this hearing loss, and thus significantly improve older people’s speech comprehension.


Hearing loss related to everyday noise (inner ear).

Whether on the job or at home, our everyday lives are getting louder. Road construction, traffic and airport noise, live concerts—they all place major burdens on our ears. They can damage our hair cells, which causes lasting hearing impairment. For this reason, people who are often in noisy situations should always use appropriate hearing protection. Hearing systems can compensate effectively for damage that has already occurred. Besides the constant, long-lasting noise of everyday life, short, very loud sound events (fireworks, for example) are extremely harmful to hearing, and can cause years’ worth of damage in just milliseconds.

Did you know…?

An estimated 17 to 20 million people in Germany can no longer hear well. And the proportion of hearing-impaired young people is growing all the time. Read more: What does hearing loss mean? How do I identify it? And why should I consider getting a hearing system?