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Types of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is simply when your ability to hear is reduced. Having a hearing loss makes it more difficult for you to hear speech and other sounds. We are here to inform our readers about the different types of hearing loss, exactly how they differ from one another and what steps can be taken to help restore the hearing you have left. 

older woman hard at hearing with the text types of hearing loss

Common causes of hearing loss 

The most common causes of hearing loss are constant noise exposure and aging. In most cases, hearing loss has no cure. Should you suspect you have hearing loss, know that you are not alone. Based on a study conducted by the National Institute of Deafness in 2017, more than 48 million people in the United States have reported some degree of hearing loss.  

Three types of hearing loss 

Hearing loss can be divided into three categories; conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, and mixed loss, which is a combination of both conductive and sensorineural. Each of these categories of loss correspond to different components of the ear that are not performing correctly.   

1. Conductive Hearing Loss 

Conductive hearing loss makes it difficult for sounds to get to your inner ear. This occurs when there is a blockage transferring sound waves. Imagine the following: 

You go to see your favorite band perform live.  When you arrive, the music is so loud you need to wear earplugs to drown out the noise and enjoy the lyrics to your favorite songs.  As soon as you leave the concert, you notice you are not hearing as well as you were when you initially arrived.  Prior to the concert, your hearing was normal.  Then you realized you accidentally left your earplugs in your ears!  You remove them and everything sounds normal again.  This example best illustrates a conductive loss, a hearing loss attributed to your middle-ear and nothing to do with nerve damage to your cochlea.    

Your middle-ear consists of the area from the beginning of your eardrum to before your cochlea.  Sound waves get funneled into your ear and penetrate your eardrum.  Behind your eardrum is what is known as the ossicular; the three bones that are analogous to a hammer, anvil, and stirrup (better known as the malleus, incus, and stapes).   

Depending on the varying frequencies and volume levels, the ossicular chain causes vibrations to be received by the cochlea.  If your cochlea is functioning normally and the reason you have a hearing loss is because sound is not being received properly via the middle-ear, you have a conductive loss.  Should this happen, your hearing loss may be redeemable and you should consult an Ear Nose and Throat doctor.  Should your loss not be redeemable, you can still be fit with hearing aids.   

2. Sensorineural Hearing Loss 

Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss. It accounts for roughly 90% of reported hearing loss and is a result of damage to your inner ear (National Institute of Deafness). 

Imagine the following:  

You’ve spent many years following your favorite rock band while they were on tour.  You’ve never missed a show, and never wore hearing protection.  After some time, sounds don’t seem as loud and people tend to mumble.  You go in for a hearing test and find there is nothing obstructing your middle-ear from hearing.  What you have is a sensorineural hearing loss.   

Your hearing loss is attributed to your cochlea not functioning the way it used to.  The cochlea has microscopic hairs that correspond to different frequencies.  These hairs send signals to your brain, which ultimately enable you to hear across the whole frequency spectrum.  Noise exposure and aging cause these hairs to deteriorate, disabling them from receiving certain frequencies.  The cause of this loss is nerve damage for which there is no cure.   

These hairs will never grow back to what they once were.  Once they are gone, they’re gone.  In these cases, hearing aids are highly recommended as they will stimulate your cochlea and vastly improve your ability to understand speech. Additionally, in many cases, hearing aids improve your memory and overall cognitive abilities. 

3. Mixed Loss 

A mixed loss is when you have an impairment to both your middle-ear and your cochlea.   A proper hearing test will determine the extent of each impairment.  Should you experience any difficulty hearing, the most important thing to do is come in for a free hearing test.