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Different Types of Hearing Loss

Hearing Loss is the third most common physical condition after arthritis and heart disease. 1

Hearing loss can be a sudden event or a gradual decrease in how well you hear.  Depending on the cause, it can be mild or severe, temporary or permanent.  Gradual hearing loss can affect people of all ages and can vary from mild to profound.  In adults, the most common causes of hearing loss are aging and exposure to noise.

Because hearing loss is a condition that is not visible to the people around you, its effects may be misunderstood.  The behavior of someone with hearing loss may be misinterpreted as inattention, standoffishness, confusion, dementia or even a change in personality.

Let's look closer at the two types of hearing loss - Conductive and Sensorineural

First, a little anatomy. The structure of your ear has three parts. 2

  • the outer ear including the pinna (the external part of your ear that is visible) and the ear canal
  • ‍the middle ear including the eardrum, three ossicle bones, and the Eustachian tube
  • ‍the inner ear including the cochlea (involved in hearing) and the semicircular canals (part of your balance system)

Conductive Hearing Loss involves the outer and middle ear.

A person with normal hearing experiences sound in all areas of the speech spectrum as loud and clear.  With conductive hearing loss everything sounds the same, just much quieter. 4 Soft sounds may be more difficult to hear. Louder sounds may sound muffled.

Normally, sound passes down the ear canal to the eardrum where it is transmitted across the middle ear to the inner ear by three small bones called the ossicles.  Conductive hearing loss results if there is a  mechanical problem in transmitting the sound from the outer and middle ear to the inner ear.

What causes Conductive Hearing Loss? 2, 4

A problem anywhere in the outer or middle ear can contribute to conductive hearing loss.

  • Earwax (cerumen) or a foreign object stuck in your ear canal
  • Otitis externa - outer ear infection or inflammation, sometimes called “swimmer’s ear”
  • Abnormality in the outer or middle ear –  from heredity or injury, including head trauma
  • Benign tumors blocking the outer or middle ear
  • Perforation of the eardrum - holes in the eardrum from trauma, pressure, or infection
  • Otitis media - infection or inflammation in the middle ear
  • Fluid in your middle ear from colds or allergies or otitis media
  • Eustachian tube function – this tube connects your middle ear and your nose to drain fluid from the middle ear.
  • Otosclerosis - changes in the ossicles (small bones) in the middle ear

Sensorineural Hearing Loss involves the inner ear and/or nerve pathway.

Sensorineural hearing loss causes speech to sound quieter and distorted. Usually, low frequency vowel sounds will be perceived better than high frequency consonant sounds. Soft sounds may also be hard to hear. Even some loud sounds may be unclear or distorted. 3

Sensorineural hearing loss is also called presbycusis (or presbyacusis) and results from damage to the tiny hair cells in the cochlea or damage to the auditory nerve that transmits signals to the brain. This type of hearing loss also may be accompanied by tinnitus, dizziness, or lightheadedness.

What causes Sensorineural Hearing Loss?

This list illustrates the issues that can impact the inner ear and cause this type of hearing loss, 3, 5 with the most common instances of sensorineural hearing loss being age-related (presbycusis) or noise-induced.6

  • Aging
  • Diseases that include multiple sclerosis, Meniere’s disease, and autoimmune disease of the inner ear
  • Exposure to certain viruses including mumps, measles and meningitis
  • Drugs that are toxic to hearing
  • Hearing loss that runs in the family
  • Congenital conditions like malformation of the inner ear, premature birth, and maternal diabetes
  • Head or ear trauma can damage the delicate structures of the inner ear
  • Excessively loud noise like a rock concert or an airhorn, or explosions, as in military service or excavation blasting
  • Repetitive noise exposure in industries like machine shops, construction sites or airport services

What are my options to deal with hearing loss?

If you are sensing a change in your hearing, don’t wait for it to get worse. Call us for a consultation with Dr. Elena Treadway, our Professional Audiologist. She can test for both types of hearing loss and discuss your best choices for treatment that will restore your quality of life.

Don't Retire from Life Due to Hearing Loss

Dr. Treadway is here to help. Call and find your solution.

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