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Different Types of Hearing Impairments

January 30, 2018 | Fisher-Titus Medical Center

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When you can’t hear what’s going on in the world around you, it’s easy to chalk it up to plain old hearing loss. But the situation isn’t as simple as it seems. Nor is it something that you just have to live with. There are actually three types of hearing loss—each with its own cause, symptoms and treatments.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Let’s start with the most common type of hearing loss— sensorineural hearing loss, which affects 23 percent of people over age 65, according to the American Hearing Research Foundation.

First, a short anatomical lesson. The ear is made up of three parts: the outer, the inner and the middle ear. Sensorineural hearing loss happens as a result of damage to the inner ear (also called the cochlea). It can also result from problems with the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain.

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Causes of this type of hearing loss include old age, Meniere’s Disease, certain medications like high dose aspirin, and immune disorders. Very rarely, tumors can also cause this type of hearing loss.

Another common cause of sensorineural hearing loss is exposure to loud noises. The National Institute of Health estimates that up to 15 percent of adults ages 20 to 69, experience some noise-related hearing loss from either work or recreational activities.

So what can you do about sensorineural hearing loss? That depends on the specific cause. Old age is the most common culprit and is considered to be irreversible, though it can be effectively managed with hearing aids or, if necessary, a cochlear implant.

Other causes of sensorineural hearing loss can often be treated with drug therapy and diet.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is a problem with the ear canal, eardrum, or middle ear and its little bones.

Often, this type of hearing loss is present at birth and can be surgically corrected. It can also be caused by infection, trauma, fluid in the ear caused by a cold or allergies, or even a benign tumor.

Treatment, of course, depends on the cause. Ear infections can usually be treated with antibiotics, but sometimes require surgery. Hearing loss that is caused by trauma sometimes also requires surgery.

Mixed Hearing Loss

As the name implies, this type of hearing loss is a mix of conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. That means there is both damage to the outer and middle ear’s ability to conduct sound and damage to the inner ear.

There is no one condition that magically causes these types of hearing loss to occur at the same time. Rather, they just happen independently of each other and must be treated independently of each other.

When there’s a problem, many of us choose to just ignore it and get by. But some types of hearing loss are caused by conditions that require immediate treatment (like ear infections or Meniere’s Disease.) Even if your hearing loss is irreversible, it can be managed with a hearing aid. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our audiologists.

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