Types of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is as varied as the people it affects.

Our ears are incredibly complex. Any noise, loud or soft, near or far, is picked up and interpreted at lightning speed, yet if any section of our ears isn’t working quite right, it can have a huge impact on our hearing ability. While hearing loss can take many forms, it’s essential for this intricate pathway to function correctly.

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What works for one patient may not work for another, so that’s why we take a customized approach to your care. Our hearing evaluations are designed to diagnose exactly which part of your ear isn’t functioning and thus allows us to create the most appropriate treatment plan for your needs. There are four main types of hearing loss – keep reading to see how they might affect you.

Types of Hearing Loss

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

This type of hearing loss is due to a problem with the inner ear nerve cells that create the electrical impulses or the auditory nerve that transmits them. They can be damaged by things like loud noise exposure, trauma, metabolic diseases that reduce blood flow or affect blood chemistry (hypertension, atherosclerosis, diabetes, etc.), autoimmune disorders, viruses, exposure to certain drugs, a genetic tendency for nerve cell degeneration with aging, or very rarely, a non-cancerous tumor (affecting the auditory nerve).

Most adult hearing loss is sensorineural. It can be any degree of hearing loss and may affect some or all pitches (often high pitches). It is not usually able to be helped with medical or surgical treatment, but more than ninety percent of the time it can be improved with hearing aids. A cochlear implant—a device that can generate electrical impulses—is a surgical treatment which is only appropriate for severe to profound hearing losses that don’t receive enough help from hearing aids.

Conductive Hearing Loss

This type of hearing loss is due to a blockage or reduction of sound transmission through the ear canal or middle ear space. Hearing may be impaired for all or some pitches, often low pitches. Common causes include earwax buildup, a perforated eardrum, damaged middle ear bones, infection and fluid in the middle ear space. This fluid may develop due to swollen or blocked Eustachian tubes (an air passage between the middle ear space and the upper part of the throat, behind the nose). Colds or allergies can cause the Eustachian tube to swell and enlarged adenoids can block the opening.

Conductive hearing loss is the most common type found in children but is found in only about ten percent of adults. It can be a minimal, mild, moderate or moderately-severe degree of hearing loss, but it can usually be successfully treated or at least improved with medical or surgical treatment.

Mixed Hearing Loss

When multiple parts of the ear’s anatomy are damaged, a mixed hearing loss can occur. In most cases, both the middle or outer ear along with the auditory nerve or inner ear have sustained an injury of some type or have encountered one of the conditions listed above. The conductive hearing loss present may be reversible while the sensorineural hearing loss is often permanent.

Auditory Processing Disorders

Rather than a hearing impairment which affects the ability to detect sounds, Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) causes individuals to struggle with their ability to organize, analyze, and interpret noises around them. While all parts of the ear are functioning properly, those with APD find that the hurdle they encounter is in their brain. Often caused by a tumor, disease, injury, heredity, or an unknown cause, the auditory processing centers in the brain do not function normally. APD does not always include hearing loss and many times the treatments for this disorder versus a hearing impairment are dramatically different.

Hearing loss doesn’t have to take over your life.