Where you will always see a Doctor of Audiology

About Hearing Loss

Hearing loss affects nearly 5% of the world population according to the World Health Organization.  One out of 3 adults 65 years and older have a hearing loss.  There are three types of hearing impairment.

  • Sensorineural hearing loss: This is the most common type of hearing loss.  It occurs when damage has been done to the nerves.
  • Conductive hearing loss: Not quite as common, this occurs when there is damage caused in the middle ear space
  • Mixed hearing loss: This is a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. 

Sensorineural hearing loss

Most individuals with hearing loss suffer from sensorineural hearing impairment. This occurs when there is a problem with the sensory receptors of the hearing system,  specifically in the cochlea or audiotory nerve of the inner ear. The majority of sensorineural hearing loss occurs as a result of an abnormality or damage to the hair cells in the cochlea. This abnormality prevents sound from being transmitted to the brain normally, resulting in a hearing loss. 

Things that can cause sensorineural hearing loss are the natural aging process (presbycusis), genetics, infection, ototoxic drugs, born with hearing loss, noise exposure, and traumatic events such as a head injury or a skull fracture.  There are currently no medical ways to correct sensorineural hearing impairment.  The best treatment for this type of hearing loss is amplification systems.

Sensorineural hearing losses are generally permanent and some remain stable over time while others worsen. Therefore, routine hearing tests are needed to monitor the hearing loss. Treatment options, including hearing aids or cochlear implants in the most severe cases, are common recommendations.

Individuals with sensorineural hearing loss may report muffled speech, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), difficulty hearing in background noise or that others do not speak clearly.

Conductive hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is a problem with conducting sound to the organ of hearing. The problem may lie in the outer ear (pinna or ear canal), eardrum (tympanic membrane) or the middle ear (ossicles and Eustachian tube). The inner ear and auditory nerve remain unaffected in this type of hearing loss.

Common causes for conductive hearing loss is fluid behind or in front of the eardrum, complete earwax blockage, a hole in the eardrum, the bones connecting the eardrum to the organ of hearing are damaged, abnormal growths in the middle ear space, or born without an ear canal and/or outer ear. This can often be corrected with medication or surgical procedures.

Conductive hearing losses may be temporary or permanent, depending on the source of the problem. Medical management can correct some cases of conductive hearing loss, while amplification (hearing aids) may be a recommended treatment option in more long-standing or permanent cases.

Individuals with conductive hearing loss may report that sounds are muffled or quiet. Generally, when sounds are made louder, these individuals can hear well again.

Mixed hearing loss

Mixed hearing loss occurs when a person has a sensorineural hearing loss in combination with a conductive hearing loss. It is, very literally, a mix of sensorineural and conductive hearing losses. This means there is a problem in the inner ear as well as in the outer or middle ear. The conductive hearing loss may be temporary or permanent, depending on the source of the problem.

Mixed hearing loss can sometimes be treated with medical management and hearing aids are a common treatment recommendation.