Understanding the Different Types of Hearing Loss

Understanding the Different Types of Hearing Loss

About 48 million Americans have some level of hearing loss, including about 15% of the adult population. Age-related hearing loss, called presbycusis, is the most common diagnosis, but often the genetic loss of hearing is compounded by other lifestyle and environmental factors. 

There are two basic types of hearing loss, as well as a third that has elements of both. Regardless of the reasons behind your hearing loss, Lawrence Otolaryngology Associates has the resources and experience to help you hear better, from testing and diagnosis to fitting assistive devices. 

Sensorineural hearing loss

The most common type of hearing loss results from damage to structures in the inner ear or to the auditory nerves themselves. Called sensorineural loss, it’s the condition that usually causes age-related hearing loss, and it also results from cumulative exposure to loud sounds. 

Sensorineural loss can also result from a physical injury, as a response to a disease, or as a side effect of certain medications. Hearing aids are the primary form of treatment since there are no treatments or procedures that can reverse or cure the condition. 

Typically, sensorineural hearing loss has a slow onset, taking years, and you may not realize you’re losing hearing. 

In rare instances, sudden hearing loss can occur over a few days. In this case, changes are more obvious, and prompt treatment can often help. Contact Lawrence Otolaryngology Associates as soon as possible if you experience this kind of hearing loss. 

Conductive hearing loss

The hearing process works as your ears detect pressure changes in the air — sound waves — and convert these to mechanical energy at the eardrum, which then moves tiny bones in the middle ear. Anything that blocks or interrupts this transfer of energy can interfere with your ability to hear sounds. 

The middle ear is typically air-filled. When you swallow and your ears “pop,” it’s the pressure of air behind the eardrum equalizing with your surroundings. 

When you have a cold or infection, the middle ear may become filled with fluid. The organs of hearing no longer respond as expected, resulting in the feeling of being plugged up and unable to hear normally. 

Any damage to the ear’s structure can also affect the conductive aspects of hearing. Bone abnormalities, such as irregular calcium deposits, may upset the ear’s operation. Even a buildup of earwax can block the ear canal, interfering with sound waves arriving at the eardrum. 

Unlike sensorineural hearing loss, conductive hearing loss can sometimes be treated to restore lost hearing. Removing an earwax plug is the most obvious method. Many children have tubes surgically inserted into their ears to aid fluid drainage from the middle ear. 

Mixed hearing loss

It’s possible to have both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss issues. A full hearing test can identify the type or types of hearing loss you have as well as the degree and the specific sound frequencies affected by hearing loss. 

Virtually every case of hearing loss is unique, though customizing modern assistive device programming to match is easy and is part of the hearing aid fitting process. 

Whenever hearing loss becomes an issue, contact the nearest location of Lawrence Otolaryngology Associates to book a consultation. Untreated loss can lead to social isolation and depression, unnecessary complications with the treatments available today. Call the office in Lawrence or Ottawa now to make an appointment. 

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