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Progressive Hearing Loss

An identified hearing loss may not remain stable, but may get worse over time, and then it is called progressive. This can happen in both children and adults, so care must be taken to monitor hearing loss over time, and to observe the indications of a deteriorating hearing loss, especially in those with risk factors.

Progressive hearing loss in children

For children with identified hearing loss, it is very important to have regular hearing tests as recommended by the child’s audiologist. If a change in hearing is seen, the audiologist may need to reprogram the child’s hearing aids, or discuss the need to consult with other professionals to addressing changing needs for amplification or communication.   

Some babies pass the newborn hearing screening test, but have risk factors for developing a hearing loss later in childhood.  For these children, hearing should continue to be monitored if these risk factors are present: history of hearing loss in the family, premature birth, Cytomegalovirus (CMV), physical malformations. Please visit this Very Well website page for more information on progressive hearing loss in children, and please visit this Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website page for more information on hearing loss in infants and young children.

Some children have syndromes or conditions which are not apparent at birth when the newborn screening is done, but which may cause hearing loss later on.  Certain syndromes such as Pendred syndrome, Alport syndrome, Down syndrome, Enlarged Vestibular Aqueduct syndrome and Usher syndrome are linked with progressive hearing loss. Malformations of the cochlea, such as found in Mondini syndrome, also are linked to deteriorating hearing loss.  It is important to have a child’s hearing tested anytime concerns arise at home or school, even if the child passed the hearing screening at birth. 

Progressive hearing loss in adults

The most common cause of progressive hearing loss in adults is age-related, also known as presbycusis. 30% of people over the age of 60 have a hearing loss. For more information on the prevalence of hearing loss, please visit this Better Hearing Institute website page. For more facts and figures, please visit this Action on Hearing Loss (AoHL) website page. As hearing deteriorates with age, the higher frequency sounds of speech get more difficult to hear (s,t,f) making conversation more difficult to understand, especially in noise. When this happens gradually it may not be noticeable but may cause real problems in communication. Self-tests of hearing loss can be undertaken, but if there are doubts about hearing then a referral to an audiologist should be made. Please find examples of self tests on this Action on Hearing Loss website page, this Starkey website page, and more information on understanding hearing loss on this Phonak website page.

Working in noisy environments such as factories, or with loud music, can also cause a progressive hearing loss, when the hair cells in the cochlea are damaged. If this has been the case, then hearing should also be monitored. Noise related hearing loss is one of the few kinds of hearing loss which is preventable, so it is extremely important to wear hearing protection any time you are around loud sounds AND to have your hearing tested yearly if you have regular exposure to noise. 


Progressive hearing loss in adults can also be caused by disease (such as otosclerosis or Meniere’s disease), exposure to drugs which are toxic to the inner ear, hereditary conditions or, in rare cases, benign tumours of the auditory nerve.