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Frequently Asked Questions About Health Information

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What information is available from the NIDCD Information Clearinghouse?

The NIDCD Information Clearinghouse is a service provided by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders (NIDCD). It is staffed by information specialists who can provide information related to hearing, balance, smell, taste, voice, speech, and language. The specialists can recommend and place orders for free NIDCD publications. They can perform database searches for journal articles, books, and other information that may be helpful to you. The specialists also can supply contact information for other organizations that offer information and services.

Clearinghouse information specialists cannot diagnose your disorder or recommend specific treatments, clinics, or equipment.

Do you have a toll-free number?

Yes, our toll-free numbers are (800) 241-1044 (Voice) and (800) 241-1055 (TTY), Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Eastern time. You can also send your questions by e-mail to and your questions will be answered within 1 to 2 business days.

Can I order publications online?

Yes, you can order publications online at

Can you refer me to a specialist or tell me the best place to go for treatment for my disorder?

We do not make referrals, but we can refer you to organizations, associations, and institutes that do refer individuals to specialists and treatments.

Search our online directory database at to find organizations that provide additional health information about a particular disorder or health problem. The NIDCD Resources Directory lists organizations that are national in scope and that address one or more communication disorders.

Do you publish a directory of resources?

Yes, we publish an annual directory of organizations with an interest in one or more of our focus areas: hearing, balance, smell, taste, voice, speech, and language. Our directory provides contact information for each organization as well as a description of its mission and available resources. The directory is available online at For a free copy of the NIDCD Resources Directory, contact our information clearinghouse at (800) 241-1044 (Voice) or (800) 241-1055 (TTY).

How can I participate in a research study or clinical trial?

Information about NIDCD research studies seeking patients can be found at For additional information on participating in a clinical research study at the NIH Clinical Center, contact the Patient Recruitment and Public Liaison Office at (800) 411-1222 or send an e-mail to

What is WISE EARS!®?

WISE EARS! is a national public education campaign to reduce noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). The WISE EARS! coalition was formed by NIDCD in collaboration with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and more than 80 diverse national organizations. More than 100 public and private organizations have joined the WISE EARS! coalition to spread the message that hearing matters and NIHL is preventable. NIHL results from exposure to sounds that are too loud or to loud noises over an extended period of time. For more information on WISE EARS! and how to protect your hearing from NIHL, visit


Hearing and Balance

How can I prevent hearing loss?

Hearing loss happens for many reasons. Some people lose their hearing slowly as they age (presbycusis). Others develop otosclerosis, which is an abnormal growth of bone of the inner ear that prevents structures within the ear from working properly. Some hearing loss is hereditary. Researchers are studying how to prevent and treat these types of hearing loss. For more information, see our fact sheets entitled Presbycusis and Otosclerosis.

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), however, can be prevented. NIHL results from exposure to sounds that are too loud or to loud noises over an extended period of time. Noises above 85 decibels, including loud musical noise, can cause damage. Wearing earplugs or other hearing protective devices can help prevent hearing loss. Earplugs are available at hardware stores and sporting goods stores. For more information about how to prevent NIHL, visit the WISE EARS!® web site at

What are the signs of hearing loss in an adult or child?

If you are concerned about your hearing as an adult, ask yourself the following questions.

  • Do I have a problem hearing over the telephone?
  • Do I have trouble following the conversation when two or more people are talking at the same time?
  • Do people complain that I turn the TV volume up too high?
  • Do I have to strain to understand conversation?
  • Do I have trouble hearing in a noisy background?
  • Do I find myself asking people to repeat themselves?
  • Do many people I talk to seem to mumble (or not speak clearly)?
  • Do I misunderstand what others are saying and respond inappropriately?
  • Do I have trouble understanding the speech of women and children?
  • Do people get annoyed because I misunderstand what they say?

If you answer “yes” to three or more questions, you may want to consult with an otolaryngologist or an audiologist for a hearing evaluation.

Older children with possible hearing loss may experience the same symptoms as adults. Young children with possible hearing loss may show signs of delayed speech and language development. The NIDCD publication entitled Speech and Language: Developmental Milestones contains a checklist of normal speech and language development for children from birth to 5 years of age. A medical professional should evaluate hearing in adults or children with possible hearing loss.

Why did I suddenly become deaf?

There are more than 100 possible causes of sudden deafness. It is rare for a specific cause to be identified. Only 10 to 15 percent of patients with sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) know what caused their loss. A few of the possible causes include infectious diseases, ototoxic drugs, trauma (such as head injury), and circulatory problems. Approximately 4,000 new cases of SSHL occur each year in the United States. It can affect anyone, but for unknown reasons, it happens most often to people between the ages of 30 and 60. For more information, see our Sudden Deafness fact sheet.

What is tinnitus? Is there a cure?

Tinnitus is a condition in which a person hears a ringing, hissing, roaring, clicking, or pulsating sound in one or both ears. This sound can be constant or sporadic. The causes of tinnitus include hearing loss, noise exposure, medications, and other health problems.

There is no cure for tinnitus, but there are many ways to cope with the condition. Coping strategies include the use of maskers, medication, tinnitus-retraining therapy, and counseling. An otolaryngologist, who specializes in diseases and disorders of the ear, nose, and throat, can help you evaluate treatments. For more information, see our fact sheet on The Noise in Your Ears: Facts About Tinnitus.

How can I help my child who has an auditory processing disorder?

An auditory processing disorder (APD) is a complex problem. It takes a team of experienced professionals to diagnose and treat a true APD. Several strategies, such as auditory trainers and changing a child’s learning environment, may help children with auditory processing difficulties. Some strategies that are commercially available have not been fully studied yet. Any strategy selected should be used under the guidance of a team of professionals. For more information, see our fact sheet on Auditory Processing Disorder in Children.

Where can I sign up for American Sign Language (ASL) classes?

Your local universities or colleges may offer classes in American Sign Language. Other sources of information about classes are your state commission on deafness and your state vocational rehabilitation center. Contact the NIDCD Information Clearinghouse at (800) 241-1044 (Voice) or (800) 241-1055 (TTY) for contact information for your state commissions. A good source of information about ASL and sign language is Gallaudet University, located in Washington, DC, at (202) 651-5000 (Voice/TTY). For more information, see our American Sign Language fact sheet.

How can I get help paying for hearing aids or other assistive devices?

Your state commission on deafness or state vocational rehabilitation center often has information about resources and services offered to people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Contact the NIDCD Information Clearinghouse at (800) 241-1044 (Voice) or (800) 241-1055 (TTY) for contact information for your state commissions. Local agencies such as your state department of social services and civic organizations such as the Lion’s Club, Kiwanis Club, SERTOMA Club, Optimists Club, and the United Way also may offer help.

The following Federal and national groups offer financial help or information about hearing aids:

How do I know if a cochlear implant is the right choice for me?

Deaf and severely hard-of-hearing children and adults can be fitted for cochlear implants. Adults who have lost all or most of their hearing can benefit from a cochlear implant. They often can associate sounds made through an implant with sounds they remember. Most children who receive implants are between 2 and 6 years old. Cochlear implants, along with post-implantation therapy, can help young children to acquire speech, language, developmental, and social skills. Early implantation provides exposure to sounds that can be helpful during the critical period when children learn speech and language skills. In the United States, roughly 22,000 adults and nearly 15,000 children have received cochlear implants. For more information, see our Cochlear Implants fact sheet.

What causes balance disorders?

The labyrinth, an organ in the inner ear, interacts with other systems in the body, such as the visual (eyes) and skeletal (bones and joints) systems, to maintain the body’s position. These systems, along with the brain and the nervous system, can be the source of balance problems. Balance disorders can be due to problems in any of these four areas: disturbance in the labyrinth, a problem in the brain or its connecting nerves, a problem of the body other than the head and brain, or blood flow problems. Viral or bacterial infections, head injury, blood circulation disorders affecting the ear or brain, certain medications, and aging may change our balance system and result in a balance problem. For more information, see our Balance, Dizziness, and You fact sheet.


Smell and Taste

Does an abnormal sense of smell or taste create or signify health issues?

Yes. Smell and taste do more than stimulate our appetites and help us enjoy a good meal. Smell and taste alert us to spoiled food and drink. They make us aware of potentially dangerous situations, such as those created by some allergies, gas leaks, dangerous fumes, or smoke. Individuals with a poor sense of smell should install a natural gas detector in their home. For more information, see our fact sheet on What You Need to Know About Natural Gas Detectors.

In addition, abnormalities in smell and taste may be a sign of diseases and unhealthy conditions, such as diabetes and some degenerative diseases of the nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease. More than 200,000 people visit a physician each year for a problem with their sense of smell or taste. For more information about your smell and taste senses, see our fact sheets on Smell Disorders and Taste Disorders.


Voice, Speech, and Language

How can I tell if my child’s speech and language development is on track?

Children vary in their development of speech and language. There is, however, a natural progression in skill development. Typically, a child needs to learn simple skills before he or she moves on to more complex skills. There is a general age and time when most children master each skill. These milestones of development can help parents and their health professionals determine when a child may need extra help to learn to speak or use language. The NIDCD publication entitled Speech and Language: Developmental Milestones contains a checklist of normal speech and language development for children from birth to 5 years of age. You can support your child’s speech and language development by providing a world rich in sounds, sights, and frequent exposure to the speech and language of others.

Delayed speech and language development may be a sign of hearing loss or a developmental problem. Contact your doctor if you have concerns about your child’s speech and language development.

How can I protect my voice?

There are many simple steps you can take to help protect your voice. Some suggestions are to limit your intake of drinks that include alcohol or caffeine. Drink plenty of water and be sure to include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in your diet. Do not smoke. Exercise regularly and get plenty of rest. Try not to overuse your voice and avoid straining to talk in noisy or loud environments. For more information, see our fact sheets on Taking Care of Your Voice and Vocal Abuse and Misuse.

What treatments are available for children with autism who have speech and language disorders?

The best treatment for a child with autism begins early, during the preschool years. Treatment should be tailored to your child and deal with issues related to both behavior and communication. It should involve you and your child’s other primary caregivers. A team of specialists may work with you to help your child develop to his or her full potential.

Treatment for autism should include periodic in-depth evaluations provided by an individual with special training in the evaluation and treatment of speech and language disorders, such as a speech-language pathologist. Other specialists who may work with your child include occupational therapists, who address daily living skills such as dressing, eating, and fine motor skills, and physical therapists, who address muscle strength and coordination. These professionals can reduce unwanted behaviors that may interfere with the development of communication skills. For more information, see our Autism and Communication fact sheet.


National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Celebrating 20 years of research: 1988 to 2008