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It has been estimated that about 28 million people in the United States have a hearing loss. Some have medical conditions that require intervention either through medication and/or surgery. Others have hearing loss and communication difficulties that could benefit from the use of hearing aids. Washington University audiologists at Barnes-Jewish Hospital seek to determine, by means of a thorough evaluation, the cause of the hearing loss and the appropriate treatment for each of the patients.

Hearing loss is categorized as congenital if it occurs before birth and acquired if it occurs any time after birth. Congenital causes include hearing loss due to hereditary (genetic) factors or hearing loss due to disease or medical conditions suffered by the fetus.

After birth, hearing loss may occur as the result of illness such as meningitis, chronic middle ear infections (otitis media), fusing of the middle ear bones (otosclerosis), trauma such as a blow to the head, or aging.

Certain medical conditions such as acoustic (8th nerve) tumors, and Ménière's Disease occur later in life and affect the ear's balance mechanism as well as hearing. Prolonged, repeated exposure to very loud sounds such as weapons firing, heavy equipment, loud music at concerts or through earphones, may also cause permanent hearing loss.

The cochlea (inner ear) also is very sensitive to certain life-saving drugs used to treat cancer, renal disorders and other diseases. These drugs may cause permanent sensorineural hearing loss. Medication or surgery can restore some types of hearing loss. Other types are permanent and may benefit from the use of hearing aids, other assistive devices and special training by professionals.

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