Hearing Loss Overview

What is hearing loss?

Hearing loss is a condition that affects an individual's ability to receive and process sound. It can range from mild to severe and can occur in one or both ears. There are two main types of hearing loss: conductive and sensorineural. Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound waves are not conducted properly through the outer and middle ears. Sensorineural hearing loss, on the other hand, occurs when there is damage to the inner ear or the nerve pathways that transmit sound to the brain.
The Benefits of Treating Hearing Loss

Types of Hearing Loss

In addition to the two main types of hearing loss, sensorineural and conductive, there are a number of other less prevalent variations.

Conductive Hearing Loss:

Conductive hearing loss is often the result of physical obstructions or abnormalities that impede the clear transmission of sound through the outer and middle ear. Some common causes of conductive hearing loss include ear infections, perforated eardrums, and earwax buildup. Treatment options for conductive hearing loss include medication, surgery, or hearing aids.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss:

Sensorineural hearing loss stems from damage or deterioration of the auditory nerve and its constituent components and pathways that facilitate the transmission of sound information to the brain. Common causes of sensorineural hearing loss include aging, exposure to loud noises, and illnesses such as meningitis. Treatment options for sensorineural hearing loss include hearing aids, cochlear implants, and assistive listening devices.

Mixed Hearing Loss:

Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, where loss can be attributed to both physical anomalies as well as complications with the auditory nerve system. This type of hearing loss can occur from a variety of causes, including trauma to the ear, infections, or genetic conditions.

Central Hearing Loss:

Central hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the central nervous system, specifically the areas of the brain that process sound. It is most often known to interfere with the comprehension of speech, despite the absence of any impediments to sound conduction through the ear. This type of hearing loss can be caused by stroke, tumors, or degenerative diseases.

    Causes of Hearing Loss

    While there are many causes of hearing loss, some of the most common include the following:
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    As we age, our ability to hear high-pitched sounds decreases, and we may have difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments. This is known as presbycusis or age-related hearing loss and is most often due to the deterioration of the tiny hair cells inside the cochlea, or inner ear, that transmit sound waves to the brain.
    Lady holding her hand to her ear in pain

    Noise Exposure

    Exposure to loud noises, either in the workplace or during hobbies and leisurely activities such as concerts and sporting events, can cause damage to the hair cells in the inner ear, leading to hearing loss. The loss of hearing can occur instantly in extreme instances involving explosions, for example. Or it can manifest slowly and subtly over time due to constant exposure to harmful noise levels.
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    Some types of hearing loss are inherited genetically from parents, such as genetic mutations that affect the development and function of the inner ear. Many times, these adverse conditions are present at birth and are known as congenital hearing loss.
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    Illnesses and Infections

    Hearing loss can also be caused by illnesses such as ear infections and meningitis, where the bacterial or viral infection spreads to the cochlea and destroys the hair cells within. Usually, any disease that causes inflammation of the auditory nerve can lead to hearing loss or deafness. Additionally, certain medications, such as antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs, can also cause hearing loss as a side effect.

    Signs and Symptoms of Hearing Loss

    The signs and symptoms of hearing loss can vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. Some common indications of hearing loss include:
    Difficulty Hearing Speech: Individuals with hearing loss may have difficulty understanding speech, especially in noisy environments. They may also struggle to hear high-pitched sounds, such as the voices of women and children.
    Tinnitus: Tinnitus is a ringing, buzzing, or hissing sound in the ears that is not caused by an external source and is a common symptom of hearing loss. It is usually associated with sensorineural hearing loss and results from the brain trying to fill in the gaps of incomplete or improperly perceived sound stimuli.
    Withdrawal from Social Situations: Being unable to hear properly has a huge impact on communication and dialogue, often leading to misunderstandings and awkward situations. Individuals with hearing loss may feel embarrassed or frustrated in social interactions and tend to withdraw from conversations and activities.
    Turning up the Volume: Those with hearing loss may frequently turn up the volume on the television or radio to abnormally loud levels. Additionally, they often ask others to either speak louder or repeat what was said while also requesting that the speaker slow down when talking.

    Treating Hearing Loss

    Treatment of hearing loss varies, depending on the type and severity. Conductive hearing loss is considered the easiest type to cure, with medications or surgery effectively resolving any complications. On the other hand, sensorineural hearing loss is permanent and irreversible. However, there are many ways to manage it with a number of the following treatment options which include:
    Elderly man and wife speaking with audiologist
    Hearing Aids: Hearing aids are small electronic devices that are worn in or behind the ear. They amplify sounds and improve the clarity of speech.
    Cochlear Implants: Cochlear implants are electronic devices that are surgically implanted in the inner ear. They bypass the damaged hair cells and transmit sound directly to the auditory nerve.
    Assistive Listening Devices: Assistive listening devices, such as FM systems and loop systems, can be used to amplify sounds in specific environments, such as classrooms and theaters.
    Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to repair damage to the outer or middle ear.

    Prevention of Hearing Loss

    Hearing loss is one of the most preventable medical conditions that we may encounter in our lives. In addition to being aware of the risks, some of the most common and basic approaches involve the following precautionary measure to prevent damage and loss:
    • Protecting Your Ears: Wearing earplugs, earmuffs, or custom hearing protection when exposed to loud noises can protect your ears from damage.
    • Limiting Exposure to Loud Noises: Limiting exposure to loud noises, especially over a prolonged period of time, can reduce the risk of hearing loss.
    • Getting Regular Hearing Tests: Getting regular hearing tests can help detect hearing loss early and prevent further damage.
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