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Hearing Loss 101 - Types of Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is a problem with the way sound is conducted to the inner ear or cochlea. The problem may lie in the outer ear (pinna or ear canal), eardrum (tympanic membrane) or the middle ear (ossicles and Eustachian tube). The inner ear and auditory nerve remain unaffected in this type of hearing loss.

Some causes of conductive hearing loss can include outer or middle ear infections, complete earwax blockage, deterioration of the middle ear bones (ossicles), fixation of the ossicles (otosclerosis), a hole in the tympanic membrane or absence of the outer ear or middle ear structures.

Conductive hearing losses may be temporary or permanent, depending on the source of the problem. Medical management can correct some cases of conductive hearing loss, while amplification (hearing aids) may be a recommended treatment option in more long-standing or permanent cases.

Individuals with conductive hearing loss may report that sounds are muffled or quiet. Generally, when sounds are made louder, these individuals can hear well again.

Sensorineural hearing loss

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is a problem with the sensory receptors of the hearing system, specifically in the cochlea or auditory nerve of the inner ear. The majority of sensorineural hearing loss occurs as a result of an abnormality or damage to the hair cells in the cochlea. This abnormality prevents sound from being transmitted to the brain normally, resulting in a hearing loss.

The hair cells may have been abnormal since birth (congenital), damaged as a result of genetics, infection, drugs, trauma or over-exposure to noise (late-onset or acquired) or damaged as a result of the aging process, a kind of hearing loss known as presbycusis.

Sensorineural hearing losses are generally permanent and some remain stable over time while others worsen. For this reason, routine hearing tests are important to monitor for changes in the degree and shape of the hearing loss.

Treatment options, including hearing aids or cochlear implants in the most severe cases, are common recommendations.

Mixed hearing loss

When both sensorineural hearing loss and conducive hearing loss occur in combination, it is referred to as a mixed hearing loss. It is, very literally, a mix of sensorineural and conductive hearing losses. This means there is a problem in the inner ear as well as in the outer or middle ear. The conductive hearing loss may be temporary or permanent, depending on the source of the problem. Mixed hearing loss can sometimes be treated with medical management and hearing aids are a common treatment recommendation.

Ready to get help your hearing loss or have questions? Call us today at 828-627-1950 to schedule your evaluation at either our Clyde or Franklin locations. Our Doctors of Audiology are here to help!