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What are the symptoms of severe hearing loss?

Most people experience some degree of hearing impairment during their lifetime. It can be a treatable outcome of a head cold, infection or a build-up of ear wax for example.

However, some people have repeated episodes of difficulty with hearing or severe hearing loss that greatly affects their daily life.

This article will explain the causes, signs, symptoms and treatment options if this happens to you or a loved one.

What is meant by ‘severe’ hearing loss?

The way your auditory perception is measured is by ‘decibels in hearing level’ or dBHL.

According to the RNID charity, in the UK there are around 12 million people in the UK with hearing loss over 25 dBHL. That is the equivalent of one in five people. This figure is expected to rise to 14.2 million adults by 2035.

That signifies significant hearing loss. However, the estimate for hearing loss of over 65 dBHL is 1.2 million people in the UK. This is classed as moderate to severe hearing loss.


Profound hearing loss – deafness – is measured at around 90 dB and greater.

Symptons and signs of severe hearing loss

As we have discussed in previous articles about difficulties with hearing, this issue can affect not just hearing volume, but also clarity.

You may be able to hear some types of sounds relatively well, while other things are a challenge. Or, things making noise near you sound far away.

An illustration of this sort of challenge is finding conversation muffled and hard to distinguish, but high pitched sounds are loud. Also, sounds can be hard to distinguish when you have one side of your head turned away, and you may need to tilt your head to hear things better.

There can also be substantial difficulties due to a loud ringing sound that won’t go away.

It’s even possible to find it hard to process sounds and make sense of them, or you start to hear things that are ‘false signals’.

We explain the different causes next. However, it’s important to note that severe hearing loss can also bring with it other important symptoms. These include pressure or pain in the sides of your head or having a wet, sore inner ear.

Even if your hearing loss is relatively mild, these are the things that need to be addressed quickly, with an appointment to see a medical professional.

What about if you’re worried someone else has severe hearing loss? The signs may include that they are becoming less willing to engage in conversation, and are avoiding social situations. Especially ones where there will be background noise, to interfere with their ability to distinguish conversations.

They may regularly ask you to repeat things or have their television turned up very high for instance.

Severe hearing loss causes

Providing a trained audiologist with your experience of hearing difficulties, and undergoing tests that measure your dBHL, can help towards a diagnosis, and a plan for either treating or managing the condition.

Much depends on what has caused this significant loss of hearing, and how permanent it is.

The sort of things that can greatly reduce your ability to hear properly is broadly categorised as Sensorineural, Auditory Processing Disorders and Conductive.

You can have one of these or a mixture, but what do they mean?


Severe hearing difficulties that are Sensorineural are usually problems associated with a birth defect (which is often spotted in childhood) or an injury you have sustained. The delicate mechanisms in your auditory system – including the parts of your ear for collecting and transmitting sound – are damaged.

This is not always something that can be rectified and may require ways to manage your hearing loss, such as discrete and efficient modern hearing devices.

Auditory Processing Disorders

Severe hearing loss can be due to how your brain uses the information it receives from your auditory system. This neurological issue can be connected to health issues linked to ageing, for instance.

Having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can create difficulties in processing sounds too, which manifests as substantial difficulties in hearing. This can be intermittent and related to times of high anxiety or stress. In effect, your brain ‘switches off’ sound, muffles it or changes your perception of it to something else.


Diagnosis of auditory processing disorders can be tricky but are something the best audiologists are trained to identify.

Conductive hearing loss

The most common reason for severe hearing loss is a conductive issue. Fortunately, this is less complex and potentially straightforward to treat.

The term means that something is blocking sound, and preventing it from travelling properly from our outer ear, and through your middle ear.

This could be the result of a substantial infection in one or both sides, causing your ear’s membranes to be inflamed and swollen. Or, a particularly bad build-up of wax or foreign bodies that are preventing sounds from travelling properly. An abnormal bone growth could also be the cause.

Some severe hearing loss that is a conductive issue is due to fluid build-up in your middle ear. This may need to be drained, and of course, medications can be used to address any infections that are the underlying cause.

One of the most serious conductive issues that can lead to severe hearing loss, is a tear in your eardrum. Part of the delicate workings of your auditory system, and an essential part of sound collection and transmission. A ruptured eardrum is often caused by excessive pressure.

Sometimes, you can have a small tear in your eardrum that heals on its own. However, scar tissue builds up and begins to significantly interfere with your ability to hear.

Getting help with severe hearing loss

The solution to severe hearing difficulties depends on the location of the issue, and its cause, as well as how far the issue has progressed before you sought treatment.

This makes it vital to seek help from an audiologist as soon as you experience the signs and symptoms of hearing loss.

Please contact VIP Hearing Solutions for a London audiology appointment, to progress prompt diagnosis and to discuss relevant treatment options.