To understand the different types of hearing loss, we first need to know a little more about the ear. The ear is divided into four parts – the outer ear, middle ear, inner ear and the central auditory pathways.
The different types of hearing loss result from sound waves being interrupted at different parts of the ear as they travel from the outer ear to the brain. Conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss are the two main types of hearing loss. You can experience one kind of hearing loss independently of the other, which happens more commonly, or suffer from both types of hearing loss known as mixed hearing loss concurrently. However, the latter occurs less frequently in patients. Note that these types of hearing loss are not the same as temporary hearing loss, which usually resolves by itself. Sensorineural vs. conductive hearing loss: Let’s look at their differences.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
As the more prevalent form of hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss is experienced by about 90% of the elderly population. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when nerve damage is in the inner ear or along the nerve pathways connecting the inner ear to the brain. This means that your middle and outer ear are working as they should, but certain sounds are not being interpreted correctly and may not reach the brain.
Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss include problems hearing soft or faint sounds, particularly in crowded places, and not being able to hear loud sounds clearly. If you are above 55 years of age and experiencing these symptoms, you are most likely suffering from sensorineural hearing loss.
Causes of Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Although aging is the most common cause of sensorineural hearing loss, many factors can also contribute to this condition. They include illnesses or diseases, medications, frequent exposure to loud noises, head trauma, or genetic factors.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Unlike sensorineural hearing loss, conductive hearing loss affects the outer ear. This type of hearing loss occurs when sound waves do not travel efficiently from external sources to the outer or middle ear. This can happen anywhere in the outer and middle ear and the ear canal, resulting in sound waves that cannot make it into the nerve center to be processed by the brain, which leads to hearing loss.
Symptoms of Conductive Hearing Loss
The symptoms of conductive hearing loss can vary depending on the cause or severity of the hearing loss. If you are experiencing muffled hearing, sudden or steady loss of hearing, dizziness, pain or tenderness in the ear, you might be suffering from conductive hearing loss.
Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss
Causes of conductive hearing loss can include:
- common head colds that result in fluid build-ups in the middle ear
- ear wax or foreign objects that blocks the outer ear canal
- ear infections in the outer ear
- perforated eardrums
- malformation of bones of the middle ear
- tumors or other growths in the middle and outer ear
- genetic condition known as otosclerosis
Contact your doctor if you suspect you or your loved ones might be experiencing either type of hearing loss.