Types Of Hearing Loss

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There are basically three primary types of hearing loss. (If you haven’t already read the “How we hear” article, it might help to look at that one first.) A conductive hearing loss is caused by something that stops sound from getting through to the inner ear.

Conductive hearing loss could result from a number of problems, including, but not limited to: wax (or something else) plugging the ears, a problem with the ear drum, an ear-infection, or the middle ear bones not moving the way that they should. This type of hearing loss may be temporary and may or may not be medically treatable. If you have ever heard of someone having surgery that significantly improved his or her hearing, they probably had a conductive hearing loss. Hearing aids can be of tremendous benefit to most patients with conductive hearing loss.

The most common type of hearing loss is usually referred to as sensorineural hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss means that the loss is coming from either the sensory (hair cells) or the nervous system. While this term is commonly used, most sensorineural hearing losses are truly Sensory losses originating from the hair cells in the inner ear. Sensory hearing loss can have a number of causes. Noise exposure, viruses that invade the inner ear, vascular compromise, and some medications can cause damage to the inner ear hair cells, and thus cause sensory hearing loss. Sensory hearing loss is what many of us develop as we get older (known as presbycusis). Many times sensory hearing loss is referred to as “nerve loss.” This is just a generic term that many people use; however, most of the time the “nerve loss” is really just damage to the inner ear hair cells. Patients with sensory (inner ear) hearing loss are excellent candidates for hearing aids.

Neural losses are more rare than cochlear or sensory losses. This type of loss truly originates from the auditory nervous system and may be present even when the inner ear is perfectly normal. Neural hearing loss is a little more problematic, in that it may cause sounds to be distorted, not just harder to hear.

The diagnostic hearing test battery we perform helps us to differentiate between the various types of hearing loss. It also allows us to determine the need for additional medical referral or hearing aids.