Hearing Loss Types
There are three different types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural and mixed hearing loss. Each can occur in varying degrees of severity and different configurations. Only a thorough hearing test by a hearing care professional can determine the extent and type of your personal hearing loss.
Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is a problem with the outer or middle ear that prevents sound from traveling to the inner ear where it can be transmitted to the brain. This can be due to a variety of reasons including but not limited to too much earwax, fluid in the middle ear (ear infections), or problems with the middle ear bones such as osteoporosis. Additionally, some people are born with an abnormal ear or missing an ear canal, which can result in a conductive hearing loss as well. This is a common type of hearing loss for people with Down Syndrome as their middle ears are very small anatomically. Conductive hearing loss can often be temporary and may be treated with medicine or surgery.
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is a problem with the inner ear. The inner ear is where the hearing organ and auditory nerve are located. Damage to the inner ear prevents sound from traveling via the auditory nerve to the brain for interpretation. Sensorineural hearing loss is typically permanent and can fluctuate or worsen over time. Gradual sensorineural hearing loss that occurs as humans age is normal and is called presbycusis. If you are exposed to high noise levels, you may also experience sensorineural hearing loss, as the hair cells in the inner ear get damaged from high levels of noise. Sensorineural hearing loss caused by damage to the inner ear may be accompanied by tinnitus or ringing in the ears and other symptoms such as dizziness. There are many syndromes and diseases associated with sensorineural hearing loss including Meniere’s Disease, Usher’s Syndrome, Waardenburg Syndrome, Pendred Syndrome and more. Usually, the best treatment for sensorineural hearing loss is hearing aids. Each individuals loss and accompanying symptoms are different and should be evaluated by a professional.
Mixed hearing loss occurs when there are elements of both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss together. Some components of the hearing loss may be transient or temporary, while others may be permanent. For example, someone with a mixed hearing loss may be able to have the conductive element medically treated however, the underlying sensorineural hearing loss will remain.
Hearing Loss Treatment
Hearing loss, regardless of the type, can lead to difficulties with communication. If you experience hearing loss, you may notice that you are not able to do your job appropriately or communicate with your loved ones as easily as you may have once done. It is important that you focus on communication strategies to help improve your listening in challenging environments. Be sure to take advantage of short-term strategies like making sure the environment is well lit and reducing as much background noise as possible.
It is important to have your hearing evaluated by a hearing care professional if you suspect you suffer from hearing loss. Often, some or all of the loss may be treatable. If you believe you have hearing loss, regardless of the type your hearing care professional can help. If you have a sensorineural hearing loss, hearing aids may be recommended. If you have a conductive or mixed loss, you may be referred to a physician for additional treatment options including prescription or surgery. If you believe you have a sudden hearing loss, please seek medical advice as soon as possible.
Once you see a hearing care professional, they may recommend hearing aids. Hearing aids can offer a long-term solution that can improve your overall quality of life and communication abilities. While hearing aids will not “fix” your hearing, they can compensate for all types of hearing loss. There are many different types and styles of hearing aids that your hearing care professional can discuss with you. The type and degree of hearing loss you have will determine which solution is most suitable.