Hearing loss is a health concern that affects people of all ages, backgrounds, gender, and environments, in areas all over the world. Its degree of severity, cause, and outlook can vary widely by person. By understanding the main types of hearing loss and their signs, you can be better equipped to address questions and concerns about your hearing or that of a loved one. With the proper care and treatment provided by your medical team and ENT specialist, there may be help and solutions for your hearing loss.
Conductive Hearing Loss
This type of hearing loss is caused by issues in the outer or middle ear. These complications stop sound from entering the inner ear. With conductive hearing loss, sounds may become faint or distorted, or both. The complications within the outer or middle ear can be caused by fluid, wax build-up, foreign objects, infection, perforation of the eardrum, growths or tumors, or otosclerosis. Many of the people experiencing this type of hearing loss can regain most or all of their hearing by treating the cause, whether it is the presence of a foreign object, infection, and more. Some cases, like people with structural issues within the ear, cannot be reversed or helped.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
This type of hearing loss happens when the nerves within your inner become damaged and cannot send signals to the brain properly. With sensorineural hearing loss, sounds and voices may become mumbled or simply hard to understand. The most common cause of this nerve damage is age, as the inner ear and sensory cells within them tend to weaken with age. This type of hearing loss is also the most commonly diagnosed among older adults. Other causes can include excessive exposure to noise, injury, infections, diabetes, stroke, high fever, tumors, and genetic disposition. Most people with this type cannot reverse the hearing loss but can find treatment options for hearing better.
Mixed Hearing Loss
This type of hearing loss is simply a combination of both conductive and sensorineural causes. With this type, both conductive and sensorineural causes are occurring at the same time, causing damage to the outer or middle ear, as well as the nerve pathways or inner ear. The causes of this type of hearing loss are the same causes found in either of the other types. People diagnosed with this type of hearing loss typically experience worse symptoms than someone diagnosed with either conductive or sensorineural hearing loss.
Symptoms of Hearing Loss
With conductive hearing loss, it mostly affects how you perceive a sound’s loudness, not clarity. With sensorineural hearing loss, you may have difficulties understanding the loudness and clarity of noises. All types can vary in how they present symptoms, typically due to your hearing loss’s root cause. The most typical signs and symptoms you’re experiencing hearing loss include the following:
- Difficulty hearing other people’s speech
- More difficulty hearing out of one ear than the other
- A foreign odor coming from your ear
- The feeling that your voice is sounding different
- Pain or pressure in one or both ears
- An imbalance in how you hear sounds
How an ENT Specialist Can Help with Hearing Loss
The first, critical step in determining the cause or type of hearing loss you’re suffering from is to consult an ENT specialist. As trained professionals in diagnosing and treating a variety of issues with your ears, nose, and throat, an ENT can help determine the cause and recommend a treatment for regaining your hearing.
Your ENT will first perform a physical exam to look at/in your ears to check for possible causes, as well as infections or inflammation. He or she will also be on the lookout for any structural problems within your ear. The ENT doctor may also perform some basic screening tests to see how well you can hear sounds at various volumes, as well as how you respond to various types of sounds.
Conductive Hearing Loss: People experiencing this type of hearing loss can benefit from a variety of treatments. It is important, however, to know that not every patient’s hearing condition can be reversed or corrected. For conductive hearing loss, your ENT may recommend antibiotics or antifungal medications, surgery, or amplification. Amplification includes the use of hearing aids, surgically implanted or otherwise. He or she will then send you for various audiology testing, imaging, or even labs.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss: With this type of hearing loss, treatment varies greatly on the cause of the loss. Sensorineural hearing loss that presents itself suddenly is typically treated as a virus and is treated with corticosteroids. Emergency surgery can also be necessary when sudden symptoms present due to injuries or rupture.
If you experience hearing loss progressively over several months, you may be diagnosed with autoimmune inner ear disease. This can happen when your body’s immune system mistakenly sends its defenses to your inner ear structures. This can be managed with medications. Your sensorineural hearing loss may also be caused by disease within your central nervous system. In this case, the underlying disease must be treated.
The most common type of sensorineural hearing loss can also be referred to as irreversible sensorineural hearing loss. This is the most common cause among aging people, whose sensory cells progressively weaken. In these cases, there is no cure and no way to reverse it. Your ENT, however, can help you hear better with amplification through hearing aids.
Mixed Hearing Loss: People diagnosed with the symptoms and causes of both types of hearing loss are typically recommended to treat the conductive damage first within the outer or middle ear. But if there are causes that must be medically treated, those will always take precedence. Most people in this category find amplification as the best treatment for hearing better.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding hearing loss and the health of your ears, it is essential to consult a trained and trusted ENT specialist. Your ENT doctor can help you find the cause of your hearing loss and get you on the right track to hearing your best.