Hearing loss affects over 1 in 10 of American adults to some degree. However, not all hearing loss is categorized the same. Understanding that there are different types of hearing loss is vital in knowing what to do about any hearing loss you are experiencing. If in doubt, you should talk to one of our audiologists at North Houston Hearing Solutions.
There are three broad types of hearing loss, each of which can have a variety of causes:
The most common kind of hearing loss is what is called “sensorineural” hearing loss. This is caused by damage to the sensors in your cochlea, a sensory organ in the inner ear. These sensors convert sound to nerve messages, sending them on to your brain, which then interprets the sound. This kind of damage is irreversible and affects the quality of your hearing.
- Muffled hearing.
- Sounds being louder in one ear than the other.
- Problems following conversations if you are not facing the person or if two or more people are talking at once.
- Difficulty hearing in noisy areas, or distinguishing important sounds from background noise.
- Difficulty hearing women and higher pitched sounds, for example, missing the top notes in a song. Sensorineural loss often affects your ability to hear the higher sounds first.
- Difficulty telling certain sounds apart, especially s or th.
- Loss of balance (rare, but does happen).
Causes of sensorineural hearing loss:
- Exposure to loud noises. (Yes, too many rock concerts can damage your hearing, but occupational noise is a more common problem).
- Congenital issues with the cochlea.
- Head trauma
- Malformation of the inner ear.
- Meniere’s disease. This is a disorder of the inner ear that generally starts in young adulthood or middle age, typically affects only one ear, and can cause hearing loss, vertigo, tinnitus and a feeling of pressure in the ear.
- Tumors in the inner ear.
- Autoimmune inner ear disease. Some autoimmune diseases can affect the ear, including rheumatoid arthritis, Cogan’s syndrome, and Wegener’s granulomatosis.
- A viral or bacterial infection of the inner ear.
Sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, and the only treatment is a hearing aid or a cochlear implant. Cochlear implants are more commonly given to younger people or those with more severe loss. It can be easy to be in denial about hearing loss, especially if it is related to aging, but modern hearing aids are discreet, easy to use, and have long-lasting batteries.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss is when something is blocking the passage of sound into the inner ear. This can be minor and easy to treat but can become severe if not treated properly.
Symptoms of conductive hearing loss
- An overall lowering of higher volumes.
- A buildup of ear wax.
- Soreness in the middle ear.
- Rarely, abnormal bone loss.
- Fluid in the middle ear, often from a viral infection such as a cold or from allergies.
- Ear infections.
- Damage to the eardrum.
- Malformation of the outer ear, ear canal or middle ear.
- Poor function of the Eustachian tube, which drains fluid from the middle ear.
- Benign tumors in the ear canal.
- Excessive ear wax.
- An object stuck in the ear, which is most common in young children but can also happen after an accident.
The good news about conductive hearing loss is that it is most often treatable, sometimes by as simple a measure as cleaning out your ear canal. Most conductive hearing loss is temporary. For example, hearing loss from a cold will likely go away as you recover. If you do need medical treatment, we will most likely provide some form of medication. In some cases, surgery is required in order to clear the blockage. However, conductive hearing loss that is not treated can lead to sensory damage and permanent hearing loss, so if you experience those symptoms for more than a few days or after a fall or accident, you should get yourself checked out as soon as possible.
Mixed Hearing Loss
Mixed hearing loss is rarer, but happens when you have both conductive and sensorineural problems. This can occur if a conductive problem is not treated promptly, but is most often caused by trauma or an ear infection.
Mixed hearing loss may require medication and surgery as well as a hearing aid, and generally involves some permanent loss of hearing.
Hearing loss can be expensive. It can affect your social interactions as well as your ability to do your job. You may struggle to talk on the phone or deal with family dinners. If you have any of the above symptoms, you should book a hearing test. Your hearing loss may be entirely treatable and if not, then getting a hearing aid can make a massive difference to your life and that of your family. If you suspect you have hearing loss and have yet to be tested, contact North Houston Hearing Solutions to book an appointment today.
Dr. Lacey Brooks received a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry in 2003, and earned her doctorate of audiology in 2009. She completed her clinical internships and residency at various facilities within Houston Medical Center. Dr. Brooks is a professional member of the American Tinnitus Association (ATA), a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology (AAA), a member of the Texas Academy of Audiology (TAA), and is certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). She is also the vice president of the Louisiana State University Houston Chapter Alumni Association.