There are three main types of hearing loss.
Each type of hearing loss has a unique set of causes and recommended treatments. Let’s take a look at these types, possible contributing factors, and management options for each.
Hearing occurs when a sound vibration follows the pathway through the ear canal, ear drum, middle ear bones—the sound is then transformed to a neural signal by the inner ear, and follows the remaining pathway up to the brain. The primary distinction among the different types of loss is where along this pathway the problem occurs.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
The most common type of permanent hearing loss that we encounter is called sensorineural. It can be present at birth, especially if genetically related or caused by prenatal illness. However, this type of hearing loss often develops later in life. A wide range of causes exist, including normal aging processes, exposure to loud noise, certain illnesses, some medications, and head injuries.
This type of hearing loss is caused by damage to the tiny hairs or nerves within the inner ear. There is commonly a resulting loss of clarity associated with this type of loss, as it can affect different pitch ranges in various degrees. At times, sensorineural hearing loss also introduces some distortion to the quality of sound. Although it makes soft sounds more difficult to detect, it can also cause loud sounds to become more difficult to tolerate as well. The most common concern our patients with sensorineural hearing loss describe is difficulty following conversation, particularly in groups or environments with background noise.
Because the inner ear damage related to sensorineural hearing loss cannot be repaired, treatment options are focused around amplification to create more access to sounds. This would include the use of hearing aids and/or other assistive technologies. In cases of severe loss, cochlear implants should be considered if traditional hearing aids become inadequate.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing losses arise when there is a problem with the mechanics of the ear. This is often caused by something physical. In the ear canal (outer ear), disruptions in sound can be related to excessive wax buildup or other obstructions. Conductive losses arising in the middle ear often occur as the result pressure changes or fluid buildup from infections, malformations or diseases of the ear, or trauma to the eardrum or ear bones.
With a truly conductive hearing loss, the inner ear is functioning normally, but the vibration of sound is weakened before arriving at the inner ear, so it is perceived as softer than normal. The perception is often of a loss of intensity in sound, but minimal distortion occurs.
In many cases, this type of hearing loss can be treated and hearing can be restored. Treatment varies, depending on the cause, but can include earwax removal, antibiotics or simple surgery.
Increased volume is often adequate to overcome the problem if it’s a temporary issue. But, in cases of permanent conductive loss, appropriate treatment can include use of hearing aids or implantable hearing devices.
Mixed Hearing Loss
When there are issues in both the conductive and sensorineural mechanisms, it is described as mixed hearing loss. Mixed hearing losses can arise from a single cause (such as head injury) that affects two parts of the ear, or can be two independent components occurring simultaneously (such as in individual with permanent loss from noise exposure also experiencing a blockage of earwax).
Treatment for this type of hearing loss would be specific to each individual and what symptoms they are experiencing. It is common for a team of professionals to work together to treat various components of mixed hearing loss. Primary care providers, ear, nose, and throat specialists, audiologists, and surgeons often work collaboratively to ensure the patient’s concerns are being addressed and conditions are being managed as effectively as possible.
Not hearing as well as you used to?
If you suspect that you or a loved one may be experiencing hearing loss, stop in and have a chat with us. The symptoms just might be treatable, but you can’t know until you determine the underlying causes of diminished hearing.