January 30, 2014

Ask the Audiologist: Are There Different Kinds of Hearing Loss??

By Heather Sandy, MA, CCC-A
Audiology Consultants, P.C.

If you have concerns about your hearing or the hearing of a family member, a hearing evaluation is recommended. Just as there are different kinds of hearing loss, there are also different kinds of hearing tests. You may see hearing screenings being done at health fairs and the like. These are a simple way to see if you have normal hearing or not. If any hearing loss is found, a complete diagnostic hearing evaluation is recommended to determine the degree and type of hearing loss. A full exam with your audiologist can determine what part of the hearing system is damaged and if any medical problem exists. Let’s take a closer look as some different types of hearing loss.

Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) involves damage to the inner ear (which is called the cochlea) or to the nerve pathways from the inner ear to brain. This is a very common type of hearing loss. Most of the time, sensorineural hearing loss cannot be treated with medication or corrected by surgery. Some causes of sensorineural hearing loss are: Aging, genetic/hereditary hearing loss, and exposure to loud sounds. Some medications can be toxic to our ears, causing temporary or permanent loss of hearing. Illnesses, head trauma, or malformations of the inner ear may also cause sensorineural hearing loss.

Conductive hearing loss (CHL) occurs when sound is not transmitted effectively though the middle ear system. The middle ear begins at the eardrum and continues to the middle ear space where the small bones of the middle ear (the ossicles) reside. Some possible causes of conductive hearing loss are: ear infection (otitis media) with fluid in the middle ear space, poor eustachian tube function, perforated eardrum, or middle ear bones that are not moving properly. Impacted earwax can also cause temporary conductive hearing loss. These types of hearing loss can often be improved or corrected medically. When a conductive hearing loss is initially diagnosed, a medical follow up is indicated.

A mixed hearing loss is a combination of sensorineural and conductive components. Just like with conductive hearing loss, further medical follow up should occur with any newly diagnosed, or worsening, mixed hearing losses.

We also describe hearing loss in terms of degree, or severity, of the loss. Those degree descriptions range from normal to mild, moderate, severe and finally profound hearing loss. A hearing loss may fall into several categories depending on its configuration, or shape. For example, results of a hearing evaluation might be described as “mild sloping to severe sensorineural hearing loss.” That may seem like a mouthful, but it conveys a great amount of information regarding hearing status.

A complete hearing evaluation will determine the type and degree of an individual’s hearing loss. If significant hearing loss is present we can then move forward to provide the best treatment options.

Filed Under: Health & Wellness