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Types of Hearing Loss

Types of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions plaguing older adults. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 suffers from some degree of hearing loss. There are many factors that can contribute to hearing loss. But before you can seek treatment, you must first understand the specific type of hearing loss you have. There are three main types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural and mixed. Read on to learn more about each.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Your ear is made up of three parts – the outer, middle, and inner ear. Conductive hearing loss refers to hearing issues that occur in the outer or middle ear. This type of hearing loss prevents sound waves from being carried all the way through to the inner ear.

Symptoms of conductive hearing loss include:

  • Sudden or unexpected hearing loss in one or both ears
  • Sounds are muffled
  • Feeling like your ear is stuffed
  • Difficulty hearing sounds with both low and high pitches

There are many reasons for experiencing conductive hearing loss, with some of the most common causes being:

  • Fluid in middle ear
  • Ear infection
  • Allergies
  • Buildup of earwax
  • Hole in eardrum
  • Tumor
  • Foreign object in ear
  • Deformed ear canal or bone abnormality
  • Poor Eustachian tube function

In some cases, conductive hearing loss can be reversed through medical or surgical intervention. The goal of treatment is to get to the underlying problem. For example, medication can be used to treat ear infections and surgery can be performed to remove tumors or correct malformities of the inner ear.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) develops when there is damage to the inner ear. It usually occurs when there is sensorineural damage, meaning there’s damage to the ear’s auditory nerve cells responsible for transmitting hearing signals to the brain. This type of hearing loss results in permanent damage and is the most common type of permanent hearing loss.

Symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss include:

  • Muffled sounds
  • Difficulty understanding speech
  • Sudden hearing loss
  • Dizziness
  • Ringing in ear
  • Trouble hearing sounds when there is background news

Sensorineural damage can be caused by problems that affect the inner ear such as:

  • Aging
  • Exposure to loud noise
  • Head injury
  • Virus/Disease
  • Autoimmune Disorder
  • Ménière’s Disease
  • Tumor
  • Hereditary
  • Drugs
  • Abnormal bone growth

Unfortunately, there is no cure for sensorineural hearing loss, but there are forms of treatment. Hearing aids or an implantable cochlear hearing device can help to amplify sounds to a volume that the inner ear can detect. This has proven beneficial for many individuals suffering from some form of sensorineural hearing loss.

Mixed Hearing Loss

It’s possible to experience a combination of both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. When this type of hearing loss is present, there is typically a problem in your outer or middle ear and in your inner ear.

You may experience symptoms associated with both types of hearing loss. And as for a cause, anything that causes conductive hearing loss or sensorineural hearing loss can lead to mixed hearing loss. For example, if you experience hearing loss due to fluid buildup as well as exposure to loud noise, you are considered to be suffering from mixed hearing loss.

Your doctor will first want to determine the cause of your conductive hearing loss so it can be treated. A combination of treatment methods will be used to combat the various causes for your mixed hearing loss.

man putting in a hearing aid

Types of Hearing Test

If you suspect ear damage or have difficulty hearing, it’s important to inform your primary care physician. They will either perform a hearing test themselves or send you to an audiologist or an otolaryngologist (ENT) for further evaluation.

There are several types of hearing tests that may be performed. Most hearing tests check to see how well you respond to different tones and pitches at various volumes. Some of these types of tests include:

Acoustic Reflex Measures, also called middle ear muscle reflex (MEMR), tests to see whether your ear responds to loud noises by checking to see if the noise triggers a reflex within your ear.

Pure-tone test, also known as audiometry, helps to find out the quietest sounds you can hear at different pitches.

Tuning fork tests help to determine what type of hearing loss you have and in which ear by listening to a tone created by a two-pronged metal device that vibrates when hit.

Speech and word recognition tests use headphones to show how well you can hear spoken language at different volumes and in noisy environments.

Results from your tests will show what types of hearing loss you’re experiencing and to what degree. Treatment and management of your hearing loss will depend on the type and severity of your hearing loss.

Hearing loss can affect your life in many ways. It can make day-to-day living downright difficult and depressing. Don’t let hearing loss negatively affect you. If you’re suffering from hearing loss, get the help and treatment you deserve. There are effective treatment methods that can help you regain control. Contact your healthcare provider today to discuss your hearing needs.