The 4 Primary Types of Hearing Loss

Have you been diagnosed or maybe just suspect that you have hearing loss? There are four primary types of hearing loss. We’ll briefly describe each one in this article with recommendations.

1. Sensorineural

Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) is caused by damage to the hair cells or spiral ganglion neurons in the inner ear or cochlea. Due to these damaged hair cells, the cochlea is not able to effectively convert its energy into electrical signals to be forwarded on to the brain via the auditory nerve. Sensorineural is the most common type and accounts for about 90% of reported hearing losses. Most cases of SNHL occur with a gradual deterioration of hearing over years or even decades. The loss can eventually affect large portions of the hearing frequency range. It can also be accompanied by other symptoms, such as the ringing of the ears (tinnitus) and lightheadedness or dizziness (vertigo). Most commonly sensorineural hearing loss is age-related (presbycusis), followed by noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

There is no medical treatment or cure for SNHL. The most common management strategy includes hearing aids. In cases where there is profound or total deafness, a cochlear implant may be recommended. SNHL may be partially preventable by avoiding loud noises, ototoxic drugs, certain chemicals, head trauma, and inoculating against triggering diseases and conditions like meningitis.

2. Conductive

Conductive hearing loss (CHL) occurs when energy is unable to effectively be transmitted anywhere throughout the outer ear, eardrum, or middle ear. Symptoms of conductive loss may include the inability to hear softer sounds, a plugged up or occluded feeling, or even ear pain. Diagnosis requires a detailed history, local examination of the ear, nose, throat, and neck, and detailed hearing tests. This type of hearing loss can often be treated medically or surgically. Referral to a physician, preferably a physician who specializes in diseases of the ear is recommended. This type of medical doctor is called an Otolaryngologist (ENT). 

3. Combined or Mixed

Combined or mixed is a combination of sensorineural and conductive type hearing losses. The conductive component should be treated medically, however, the sensorineural component can only be corrected through hearing aid or cochlear implant therapy. Hearing aid wear can be beneficial for persons with this type of hearing loss, but the underlying conductive component causal factors should be attended by a physician.

4. Auditory Neuropathy

Auditory neuropathy occurs between the inner ear (cochlea) and the brain. The transmission of signals from the inner ear to the brain is impaired. Auditory neuropathy is a type of hearing loss in which the hair cells within the cochlea are present and working properly, but the sound is not reliably transmitted to or through the auditory nerve to the brain properly. This type of hearing loss is also known as auditory neuropathy, auditory dys-synchrony or auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder. Those with this type of loss generally have trouble understanding speech clearly. Hearing aid wear or cochlear implants have met with mixed success.

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