The Different Types of Hearing Loss
For people just beginning to lose their hearing, the knowledge that something is wrong can be devastating. Thoughts of what could eventually happen are frightening to most people, simply because of the fear of the unknown. But modern science has made it easier to deal with hearing loss in ways never before seen. In fact, more than ever people are making up for hearing loss through technologically advanced hearing aids and other procedures that can do wonders.
How a doctor treats an individual with hearing loss depends on what's causing it. There are five main types of hearing loss known as:
- sensorineural hearing loss
- conductive hearing loss
- mixed hearing loss
- central hearing loss
- functional hearing loss
We'll discuss all five types of hearing loss and give you a brief description of each one. It's interesting to note that sensorineural and conductive hearing loss are the two most common types. They are also the most easily treated; one with external hearing aids and the other with medication.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common form of all. In fact, some estimates suggest that more than 90% of all patients who need hearing aids are suffering from this type of hearing loss. Also known as "nerve deafness", sensorineural hearing loss is the result of physical damage to the acoustic nerve or the inner ear itself. That damage may occur from a simple process of aging, but may also be the result of being exposed to high decibel volumes, inner ear illnesses, or injuries involving the head and/or ears.
The bad news with this type of hearing loss is that it is permanent and there is no known cure. The problem lies in what's known as the cochlea, a group of tens of thousands of nerve endings that look like little hairs. The damage can be in the inner ear, where the cochlea is found, or in the auditory nerve which takes the signals from the cochlea and sends them to the brain. Either way it is physical damage to one of these components that cannot be repaired.
The good news is that hearing aids work extremely well for this type of hearing loss. There are many different types of hearing aids, so the ones that might be right for you will depend on where the damage lies and how severe it is. Bear in mind the hearing aids won't restore natural hearing as you remember it, but rather a "simulation" of sorts.
Conductive Hearing Loss
This type of hearing loss is the second most common and is often the result of an ear infection. It's referred to as "conductive" because the trouble lies in the fact that something is interfering with transmission of sound waves from the outer ear, through the middle ear, and into the inner ear. Something along the line is blocking those sounds. The good news is that this type of hearing loss is very treatable with high success rates. Doctors need only find what's causing the interruption and correct that specific issue.
Patients suffering from conductive hearing loss will often complain that their ears seem to feel "full" or plugged. They also may talk at a lower volume than is normal because their own voice seems extremely loud to them. This condition is caused by the fact that the vibrations occurring in the head as they speak cannot escape the ear canal anymore than sound waves can enter it. This makes the voice sound unusually loud. Such patients may find that even certain foods like carrots or crackers are annoying to eat because the crunching sound produced is so loud.
If you're diagnosed with conductive hearing loss it's simply a matter of finding out what's causing the blockage. A doctor may physically remove ear wax and then prescribe a medication to prevent a buildup from reoccurring. If it's determined you have an ear infection you will probably be given antibiotics and eardrops. If the doctor diagnoses a perforated eardrum you may get away with a simple prescription, or you may need corrective surgery.
Mixed Hearing Loss
Mixed hearing loss is a condition in which both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss are present. This is one of the more difficult conditions for audiologists to treat. Usually doctors will focus on the conductive hearing loss because of its high rate of successful treatment. Correcting the conductive issues certainly won't help the sensorineural ones, but at least it will restore as much hearing as possible. Hearing aids will be recommended to help the sensorineural issues.
Central Hearing Loss
This type of hearing loss is directly related to the central nervous system and brain. With central hearing loss people have difficulty picking out words and distinguishing speech. In many cases, patients can hear sounds perfectly well but their brains are unable to distinguish between them. This is a condition known as "central auditory processing disorder."
Patients suffering from this disorder will believe they are suffering from hearing loss when indeed their hearing is fine. The real issue is a brain malfunction which does not allow them to properly separate out various sound waves so they can distinguish one from another. In such cases everything sounds muddled, especially when that person is in a setting with lots of competing sounds. People with central hearing loss typically:
- have trouble distinguishing speech in the midst of several simultaneous conversations
- miss the first few words or an entire sentence of conversation
- have trouble reading if they can also hear the sound of the television, radio, vacuum cleaner, etc.
Functional Hearing Loss
This type of hearing loss is the least common and the most difficult to recognize. Primarily this is because there is no physical problem with any of the components involved in human hearing. Rather, the hearing loss results from a psychological or emotional problem. Such people appear to be deaf because they don't respond to normal sound like you or I. But in reality, they are physically healthy.
In order to treat functional hearing loss psychologists must determine what it is in the patient's psyche that is preventing them from hearing. This is a difficult task at best. However, when a psychologist succeeds treatment is very easy and most often 100% successful. In cases when the psychologist is not able to discover the cause, various treatments may be tried over a prolonged period of time to no success. This can exacerbate the issue by causing further emotional distress in the patient.
If you believe you're experiencing hearing loss, only an audiologist can confirm this for sure. Make an appointment as soon as you can to have your hearing checked. If you're like most people, you can be treated with medicines, surgery, or hearing aids. You may not get back 100% of the hearing you're used to, but with proper treatment there's no reason why you cannot live a normal and productive life.