Types of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is as varied as the people it affects. What works for one patient may not work for another, so that’s why we take a customized approach to your care.

Our ears are incredibly complex and work hard to constantly process sounds. Nearly any noise, loud or soft, near or far, is picked up and interpreted at lightning speed, yet if any section of our ears isn’t working quite right, it can have a huge impact on our hearing ability. While hearing loss can take many forms, it’s essential for this intricate pathway to function correctly.

Our hearing evaluations are designed to diagnose exactly which part of your ear isn’t functioning and thus allows us to create the most appropriate treatment plan for your needs.

There are four main types of hearing loss:

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

The most common type of hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss occurs due to a problem with the inner ear or auditory nerve. It presents itself when either the auditory nerve or the hair-like cells in the cochlea have sustained damage or are missing. This results in the inability to send complete nerve signals to the brain.

This kind of hearing loss can be caused by the following:

  • Head trauma
  • Illnesses
  • Drugs that are toxic to hearing (ototoxicity)
  • Genetics
  • Malformation of the inner ear
  • Exposure to loud noise
  • Aging

Conductive Hearing Loss

Although rather uncommon and typically temporary, a conductive hearing loss can occur in some patients. It’s caused when an issue in the outer or middle ear blocks sound from the inner ear. Treatment involves the use of medication or surgery while other individuals opt to use hearing aids to improve their hearing ability.

Conductive hearing loss can be caused by:

  • Ear infections
  • Benign tumors
  • Swimmer’s Ear
  • Foreign object in the ear
  • Fluid in the middle ear from colds
  • Absence or malformation of the outer ear, ear canal, or middle ear
  • Allergies
  • Perforated eardrum
  • Impacted cerumen (earwax)

Mixed Hearing Loss

When multiple parts of the ear’s anatomy are damaged, a mixed hearing loss can occur. In most cases, both the middle or outer ear along with the auditory nerve or inner ear have sustained an injury of some type or have encountered one of the conditions listed above. The conductive hearing loss present may be reversible while the sensorineural hearing loss is often permanent.

Auditory Processing Disorders

Rather than a hearing impairment which affects the ability to detect sounds, Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) causes individuals to struggle with their ability to organize, analyze, and interpret noises around them. While all parts of the ear are functioning properly, those with APD find that the hurdle they encounter is in their brain. Often caused by a tumor, disease, injury, heredity, or an unknown cause, the auditory processing centers in the brain do not function normally. APD does not always include hearing loss and many times the treatments for this disorder versus a hearing impairment are dramatically different.

Binaural Hearing

Individuals often experience different levels of hearing loss in each ear.

And patients in this situation frequently ask us, “Can’t I just treat my really bad ear for hearing loss? Won’t that be improvement enough?”

While we at the Hearing Center sometimes see patients with hearing loss in only one ear (also known as unilateral hearing loss), typically the factors that led to the impairment have affected both ears — just to a different degree. In this relatively common situation, we find that fitting just one hearing aid usually fails to provide a satisfying sound experience for the wearer.

Hearing well with both ears not only takes advantage of our ears’ critical ability to identify the location of sound (a surprisingly important component of our ability to listen and to focus on sound effectively), it also helps make speech easier to understand in the presence of noise and helps reduce the fatigue and confusion brought on by difficult listening environments.

Two Ears Means More Brainpower

Sounds collected by your left ear are initially processed by the right side of the brain, while sounds collected by your right ear are initially processed by the left side of the brain. After they are received, the two halves of your brain work together to organize the signals into recognizable words and sounds. Using both sides of the brain significantly improves the ability to decipher speech and what’s known as “selective listening” ability — the ability to pay attention to the sound or voice you really want to hear.

Two Ears Hear Better in Noise

Similarly, using more of your brain to focus on the sound you want to hear is tremendously important in overcoming one of the primary complaints of individuals with hearing loss: hearing among background noise. Also, a person wearing two hearing aids generally needs less amplification than someone wearing only one. Lower volume means less potential for sound distortion and feedback, which leads to higher-quality reproduction of sound.

Profound Unilateral Hearing Loss

In less common cases in which there is a total hearing loss in one ear (also known as profound unilateral hearing loss or single-sided deafness), there are medical therapies that may help to re-create some of the effects of binaural hearing. These include bone-conduction systems (also known as bone-anchored hearing aids, or BAHA devices) that can help transmit vibrations from the nonhearing ear to the functioning ear. Also, CROS (contralateral routing of sound) hearing aids are available that use a microphone in the nonhearing ear to transmit the sound to the hearing hear.

Contact us to discuss your hearing situation and what kind of hearing care solution is right for you.

Hearing loss doesn’t have to take over your life.

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