The Different Types of Hearing Loss

The Different Types of Hearing Loss

In Hearing Health, Hearing Loss, Research by Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A

Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A

Hearing loss appears in different types, and no person’s experience is exactly like another. Although each person with hearing loss experiences a unique profile of abilities and challenges, there are three general categories that can help you understand what might be going on.

The three types of hearing loss are categorized according to the location within the body where the loss occurs. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs in the inner ear or the auditory nerve connecting the ears to the brain. Conductive hearing loss occurs in the outer or middle ear where anatomy funnels sound into the hidden organs of the body. Finally, mixed hearing loss incorporates a combination of the two, often resulting from an injury, illness, or dangerous sound exposure that both the visible anatomy and the invisible features of hearing.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

The most common type of hearing loss is located in the inner ear and the auditory nerve connecting the ears to the brain. Most often, the location of damage are the tiny hairs that vibrate in response to sounds and transfer those vibrations into electrical impulses that are sent to the brain. Those fragile tiny hairs are easily damaged, and many people experience some damage as they get older or if they are exposed to loud sounds, for instance in a noisy workplace or through the improper use of headphones. Although these causes are the most common, many other conditions can lead to damage in the inner ear, including illnesses, injuries, or serious infections such as meningitis, mumps, scarlet fever, or the measles. Some of the well-known symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss include hearing sounds that are quieter than they should be, difficulty carrying on a conversation, problems deciphering the voice of one speaker from another, feelings of dizziness or disequilibrium, or a buzzing in the ears.

Conductive Hearing Loss

As opposed to sensorineural hearing loss, conductive hearing loss occurs in the outer or middle ear, and it is often the result of damage to the anatomy of the body. Some of the causes can be as straightforward as a buildup of wax in the ear or the obstruction of a foreign body or object in the entrance to the ear canal. Illnesses can cause conductive hearing loss, as well, particularly otitis externa (otherwise known as swimmer’s ear), which is an ear infection located in that region due to fluid trapped there that develops a bacterial growth. Other types of injury or illness can lead to conditions specific to the middle ear, most commonly otitis media, or a common ear infection. The nature of conductive hearing loss is such that the ears continue to function at the deeper level of sound sensation and communicating those sounds to the brain. As a result, the loudness of sound tends to be the primary symptom rather than the clarity of sound. Other symptoms may include pain, a feeling of pressure in the ears, a foul odor emanating from the ears, asymmetrical hearing loss in which one ear has much more trouble functioning, and the feeling that one’s own voice is very loud or that it is muffled within the body compared with the quiet external sounds.

Mixed Hearing Loss

Not all people experience only one or the other form of hearing loss. Mixed hearing loss tends to happen when someone incurs an injury that extends from the outer ear into the inner ear, as well. In addition to serious injury, mixed hearing loss can occur when a series of illnesses or conditions leads to compound damage throughout the ears. For example, a person who already has conductive hearing loss due to a childhood injury might incur additional sensorineural hearing loss as part of the natural aging process. On the other hand, a person who has sensorineural hearing loss due to working in a loud environment for many years may incur temporary mixed hearing loss due to wax buildup in the middle ear.

Visit Us at South Shore Hearing Center

The symptoms of hearing loss often appear gradually, and many people are not aware that their hearing abilities have changed. Living with untreated hearing loss presents a complicated web of challenges that could affect your overall health and well-being. If you think you may have one of these types of hearing loss, it is important to contact us at South Shore Hearing Center today to schedule an appointment for a hearing test.