What is Hearing Loss?

Understanding Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can be something that happens suddenly if you’re exposed to a loud sound or it can also develop slowly over a long period of time. Understanding hearing loss is an important step towards doing something about it.

If you think you may have a hearing loss, you are in good company. The fact is, 17 percent of all adult Americans struggle with some degree of hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). That’s 36 million people in the U.S. suffering from a loss right now! Hearing can be one of life’s greatest pleasures. Losing your hearing can be frustrating and keep you from living life to the fullest. If you or one of your loved ones fall into that category, it’s important that you understand what is happening.

Types of Hearing Loss

There are three common types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed. They all concern a failure to transfer sound along the auditory path, but they differ in the location of the impairment.

Conductive Hearing Loss

In the case of a Conductive loss, sound is impaired in the outer and/or middle ear. This usually results in reduced sound levels and the loss of faint sounds. Common causes may include ear infections, earwax, fluid in the middle ear from a cold, among other diseases and disorders. The most common treatments are medical and surgical for this type of loss, but in some cases hearing aids can be effective alternatives.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

When there is failure to fully or accurately transmit sound through the inner ear (cochlea) or along the neural pathways, this is called a Sensorineural loss. Usually the cause of this failure is damage to the interior workings of the cochlea. It is typically treated by carefully targeting sound amplification with hearing aids to compensate for damaged hair cells.

Causes of a Sensorineural loss can be congenital (present at birth) or acquired (after birth). Congenital causes might include: infections, prematurity, hereditary factors, or birth trauma. Acquired causes include: overexposure to noise, ear infections, head injury, disease (like meningitis or encephalitis), or a negative side effect of some drugs.

Mixed Hearing Loss

This is just what it sounds like: a mixture of a Conductive and Sensorineural loss. This type of loss occurs when one type of loss is present and damage occurs to another part of the ear, causing both types to be present at the same time. Treatments for this type of hearing loss usually include medical and surgical procedures, but in some cases hearing aids can be effective as well.