How To Tell if Hearing Loss is Permanent or Temporary

Author thumbnail Ashish Shah  |  Published 16 January 2024  | Updated 16 May 2024  | 10 mins read

An audiologist explaining an ear issue to a patient.

If you’ve noticed a recent change in your hearing, you might be understandably worried about the impact it might have in the long-term. Whether you’re finding it increasingly difficult to keep track of conversations or you are struggling to hear the TV more than normal, there are several different reasons why you might be experiencing hearing loss. But how do you tell if your hearing loss is permanent or temporary?

In this blog post, cover the common causes for hearing loss and whether they are permanent or temporary and steps you can take to protect your hearing loss from getting worse. 

A man holding his ear to listen.

Understanding Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is the partial or total inability to hear. It can be classified as mild, moderate, severe, or profound and can have a significant impact on overall well-being, particularly in older adults. Hearing loss can affect anyone of any age but is most common in those over the age of 50 – also known as age-related hearing loss. 

Hearing loss can negatively impact communication, social interactions, and work life, potentially leading to a drop in self-esteem and confidence. Which can, in turn, lead to distress, social withdrawal, feelings of exclusion, poor quality of life, and loneliness, contributing to feelings of depression and anxiety. Therefore, it’s important to investigate the cause of hearing loss as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and rehabilitation of age-related hearing loss are essential to improve the overall quality of life of affected individuals.

Types of Hearing Loss

There are three main types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed.


Conductive Hearing Loss

This type of hearing loss is located in the outer or middle ear. Usually, this is due to some kind of blockage such as earwax buildup, fluid in the middle ear, or problems with the ear canal or eardrum. Conductive hearing loss can often be treated with medicine or surgery depending on the cause.


Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss happens when there is damage to the inner ear or the auditory nerve. It is the most common type of hearing loss and is usually not able to be treated by medication or surgery. It can be caused by ageing, exposure to loud noises, injury, disease, certain drugs, or inherited conditions. Many people with this type of loss find they benefit from hearing aids.


Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing loss occurs when there is a combination of both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. It might involve damage to the inner ear or the actual hearing nerve as well as issues in the outer or middle ear. A hearing assessment is vital for diagnosing the exact type of hearing loss and determining the best hearing care solution.

Each type of hearing loss has different causes and may require different treatment approaches. Understanding the specific type of hearing loss you have is essential for determining the most effective management and treatment solutions.

A man watching a film on his TV.

Signs and Symptoms

Losing your hearing can be slow and subtle. So here are some common signs of hearing loss that you might notice about your own hearing or about someone else’s.

  • Difficulty hearing and understanding – Struggling to hear and understand conversations, especially in noisy environments, and asking people to repeat themselves or speak up.
  • Listening at higher volumes – Due to not hearing at lower levels, you might find yourself needing to turn up the volume on the TV, radio, or other devices.
  • Phone communication – A difficulty hearing on the phone.
  • Social and emotional fatigue – Feeling tired or stressed from having to concentrate harder while listening. You may also experience social withdrawal or a drop in self-esteem and confidence.
  • Physical symptoms – Ringing, buzzing, or whistling sounds in the ears (tinnitus) or sudden hearing loss along with dizziness, vertigo, or earache.

It’s important to seek medical advice if any of these signs are noticed, particularly if they are sudden, as early detection and intervention can significantly improve the management of hearing loss.

Temporary Hearing Loss

Temporary hearing loss is exactly what it sounds like – temporary. It can be caused by a number of factors and should clear up once the cause has been identified and treated.


Common Causes of Temporary Hearing Loss

While hearing loss often occurs gradually over time, there are a number of different issues that can cause temporary or short-term hearing problems (also called a temporary threshold shift). It’s important to note that any sudden onset of hearing loss should be taken seriously and you should go to A&E to have it inspected. 

Some common causes for temporary hearing loss include:

  • Head trauma – any sort of accident or trauma that affects your head, such as a car accident or sporting injury, can cause short-term hearing loss. 
  • A blocked ear canal – you may experience temporary hearing loss when your ear canal is blocked and will continue until it is unblocked. There are several reasons why this can happen:​
    • Ear infections: ear infections typically clear up on their own or with help from antibiotics but any inflammation or infection within your ear canal can cause a change in your hearing. 
    • A buildup of earwax can cause muffled sound, ringing in your ears or earache.
    • A foreign body: having an object stuck in your ear can cause a temporary change in your hearing. Your hearing should be restored when the object is removed.
    • Swimmer’s ear: if you have recently been swimming and are experiencing hearing loss, you might be suffering from swimmer’s ear – an ear infection that causes pain and itching in the outer ear canal, as well as temporary hearing loss. You will likely need medication to help it clear up.
  • Medications: certain medications, such as malaria treatments and aspirin, can cause temporary hearing loss, so you may need to change your medications to correct the issue. Always speak to your doctor or a medical professional before you stop taking any prescribed medications.
  • Tinnitus: tinnitus symptoms, such as a ringing or humming in the ear, can sometimes cause a temporary loss of hearing. Speak to your audiologist about treatment options if you experience tinnitus.
  • Noise-induced: if you’ve been exposed to a sudden loud noise, such as an explosion or if you stood too close to the speakers at a concert, temporary hearing loss is quite common. Normally, noise-induced hearing loss corrects itself within a few hours, but prolonged exposure to loud noise can cause permanent damage. 


How Long Does It Last?

Temporary hearing loss is unlikely to last long and should clear up once the cause has been treated. 


How to Treat It?

Treatment will depend on the cause and the treatment. An infection can last a couple of weeks depending on the severity while a blocked ear due to ear wax is much faster to treat and can be cleared in a few minutes. 

Permanent Hearing Loss

Permanent hearing loss cannot be medically or surgically treated and causes irreversible damage to your hearing. Generally, those experiencing permanent hearing loss will require additional hearing support, such as hearing aids. 

A woman sitting on her sofa looking outside.

Common Causes of Permanent Hearing Loss

  • Age-related hearing loss – also known as presbycusis. Age-related hearing loss is common and typically happens gradually over time. When it comes to age-related hearing impairment, it’s important to seek support or treatment as, if untreated, it can be a factor in the development of dementia or Alzheimers and contribute to low mood, self-esteem issues, and low quality of life..
  • Underlying health conditions or malformations – there are a range of health conditions, such as Ménière’s disease or trauma, that can damage your hearing. While congenital deformities or malformations, such as narrow or obstructed ear canals, can also cause hearing problems from birth.
  • Ototoxicity – a type of ear poisoning that occurs after exposure to certain drugs or chemicals. Ototoxicity affects the inner ear and can impair hearing and balance. 
  • Prolonged exposure to loud noises – if you’re someone who works in a loud environment, such as in construction or a factory, or loves to attend music concerts, exposure over time can cause serious and irreversible damage to your ears.

How Can I Tell If Hearing Loss Is Permanent or Temporary?

It can’t be worrying to lose your hearing, whether sudden or gradually over time. It can also sometimes be difficult to tell whether your hearing loss is permanent or temporary. 

Keep note of your symptoms and the degree of your hearing loss. Doing this is a good way to help track the severity of your hearing loss, as well as the cause, so you can accurately give the information to your audiologist at your appointment. This will help them to figure out how your hearing has changed or to highlight any discrepancies.

If you have any concerns about your hearing loss or if it has come on suddenly – whether for seemingly no reason or because you hit your head or were in a loud environment – visit A&E to help minimise the risk of it being permanent. 

An audiologist performing a hearing test on a patient.

How Can I Prevent Hearing Loss?

Provide tips and strategies for preventing hearing loss, including lifestyle adjustments and protective measures.

In order to reduce your risk of hearing loss, there are some precautions you can, and should, take to protect your hearing. 

  • Avoid loud noises – regular or prolonged exposure to sounds that are 85 decibels and louder can damage your hearing permanently. By turning down the volume, wearing earplugs, walking away from loud noises or avoiding them altogether, you can protect yourself from harmful noise levels.
  • Be conscious of medicines – certain medicines, such as high doses of aspirin, can impair your hearing. Make sure you always read the side-effects. Seek advice from your GP, consultant or medical professional who has prescribed the medication.
  • Know your family history – Some hearing impairments can be hereditary so knowing your family history can help to protect your hearing. Find out if there’s any history of hearing loss in your family as your genetic makeup can make you more susceptible to loss of hearing.
  • Get your hearing checked regularly – Whether you’re prone to hearing loss, have underlying hearing issues or work in a noisy environment, it’s a good idea to schedule regular checkups to help prevent further loss. Just like your eyes, you should get your ears checked regularly.

Free Hearing Assessment at TCHP

Did you know that The Hearing Care Partnership offers free hearing assessments? Book your appointment today to gauge your hearing level and help identify any potential problems with your hearing health. 

 Final Thoughts

There are many causes for both permanent and temporary hearing loss. Although it can be scary to lose your hearing, it’s vital that you have any changes in your hearing inspected to help preserve as much hearing as possible. 

Booking your free hearing assessment with The Hearing Care Partnership can help to catch any potential hearing issues, prevent any issues from becoming worse, and protect your hearing if you work in loud environments.