Hearing loss can occur suddenly or, which is more often the case, occurs slowly over a period of time. Sometimes hearing loss is temporary, like an ear infection or ringing in the ears after a noisy concert. Most often, hearing loss is permanent, as mechanisms within the ear have been damaged or begin to fail.
Hearing loss means you have lost the ability to hear certain sounds, which can lead to difficulty in understanding speech – particularly in situations where there is a lot of other background noise. Sometimes other factors affect our hearing beyond the ability to hear or not hear certain sounds – how our brain is processing what is heard can be an important factor. It is important to understand hearing loss in taking the first steps toward better hearing.
There are three basic types of hearing loss depending on what part of the ear is affected.
CONDUCTIVE HEARING LOSS
This is a loss caused by a problem in the outer or middle ear. It is called “conductive” because something is blocking the movement – or conduction – of sound into the ear. The canal can be blocked by earwax, infection, a tumor, or a foreign object. The eardrum can be damaged by injury or infection. In the middle ear, abnormal bone growth, infection or tumors can block the sound. Most conductive hearing losses are medically or surgically treatable. Sometimes, conductive hearing loss may be treated with hearing aids.
SENSORINEURAL HEARING LOSS
This type of loss is caused by a problem in the inner ear or the auditory nerve. When damage occurs to these areas of the ear, sound may not only be damped but also distorted. Also called “nerve deafness,” sensorineural hearing loss usually occurs in both ears, is irreversible, and is treated with various types of hearing aids or cochlear implants.
MIXED HEARING LOSS
This type of loss results from a combination of both a conductive and a sensorineural loss.