What Kind of Hearing Loss Do You Have?
As described in our last blog post, the human ear can be divided into three general parts: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. Hearing loss can occur in any, or multiple, parts of the pathway from the ear to the brain. Depending on where the hearing loss is occurring, hearing loss can be classified into three different types: conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, and mixed hearing loss.
Note that in order to determine the type and degree of hearing loss, an audiologist would perform a hearing test and graph the results on an audiogram. In addition, different types of hearing loss require different types of intervention. Make sure to discuss all of your options with a medical provider.
- Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound cannot be transmitted from the outer ear, to the ear drum, and into the middle ear space (where the smallest bones in the human body, the ossicles, are located). This type of hearing loss can often be corrected medically or surgically. Common causes of a conductive hearing loss may include:
- Middle ear infection (otitis media)
- Earwax (cerumen) impaction
- Fluid or pressure in the middle ear from colds or allergies
- Poor Eustachian tube function
- Perforation in the eardrum
- Head trauma
- Swimmer’s ear (otitis externa)
- Sensorineural hearing loss happens when there is damage to the inner ear (the cochlea) or to the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain. This is the most common type of permanent hearing loss. And even when speech is loud enough to hear, it may still be unclear or sound muffled. Common causes of a sensorineural hearing loss can include:
- Exposure to loud noise
- Genetics (hearing loss that runs in the family)
- Drugs that are toxic to hearing
- Mixed hearing loss occurs when a conductive hearing loss happens in combination with a sensorineural hearing loss. In other words, there may be damage in the outer or middle ear as well as damage in the inner ear or auditory nerve. Common causes of a mixed hearing loss can include any combination of the other issues listed above.