Types of Hearing Loss


Hearing loss, which is emerging as a leading health concern for many nations, is one the fastest growing chronic conditions facing aging adults. While statistics varies, many experts also caution that the problem may be more widespread than even reported as many sufferers fail to recognize or acknowledge their hearing loss. In all cases, however, hearing loss is a serious issue. If you or someone you love experience hearing loss, seek out professional help.

To best understand the types of hearing loss, it is important to understand how we hear. Hearing involves the conversion of sound wave vibrations to nerve signals that the brain recognizes as sound. Briefly, sound waves pass from the environment through the outer ear to the eardrum where they cause vibrations. These vibrations are amplified in the middle ear as they move to the inner ear. In the inner ear, the vibrations pass through the cochlea which contains thousands of tiny hairs that translate sound vibrations into electrical signals. These signals are then transmitted to the brain as sounds!

Hearing loss varies by which part of the ear is affected. With that in mind, hearing loss, and any associated treatment, is typically referred to as follows:


Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss refers to a problem with the mechanism in the ear that conducts sound from the external environment to the inner ear. This type of hearing loss is focused on the external auditory canal, the ear drum, or the middle ear. Common remedies include medication, surgery, or the use of a hearing aid.

For example, congenital issues such as malformation or dysfunction of middle ear structures can often be surgically corrected. Additionally, issues such as chronic ear infections or tumors can also be approached through surgery. For situations not amenable to surgical correction, hearing devices such as aids or cochlear implants are used.


Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss describes an issue with the nerve or organ of hearing. Damage to the inner ear or cochlea, the auditory nerve, or the auditory centers in the brain are all culprits. This type of loss is associated with acoustic trauma or exposure to excessively loud noise. Other sources include autoimmune inner ear disease as well as Meniere’s disease. Some of this loss can be controlled via medication, but most approaches to alleviate this type of loss include hearing aids, cochlear implants, and communication therapy.


Mixed hearing loss includes problems from both conductive and sensorineural loss. Treatment of mixed hearing loss varies depending upon the depth and breadth of the damage, but most experts always suggest treating medically what can be treated and then assess the need for hearing devices.

The process of converting sound waves to nerve impulses that the brain can distinguish and recognize is complex and wonderful. Sound is a primary basis of social communication and any damage to the ability to hear can lead to isolation, misunderstanding, and even depression. Recognizing how we hear and when to seek treatment are important steps in dealing with the widespread issue of hearing loss. The earlier the treatment, the better the results.

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