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Hearing loss can occur at any stage of life and for countless reasons. Though some would say that it is not technically hearing “loss,” some people are born with challenges to hearing that occurred prior to birth. Many others don’t face hearing loss until late in life, due to the accumulation of sounds that have entered the ears all along.
With such a wide array of possibilities, it is certainly true that no experience of hearing loss is exactly like another. Every person has their own list of symptoms and the specific causes of those conditions. For this reason, it is crucial to get an audiologist or hearing specialist on board to give you a complete consultation and hearing examination. Only a professional can take a look at your abilities, challenges, and reported experiences and come up with a conclusion about the specific nature of your hearing loss.
However, there are some general categories of hearing loss that can make it easier to understand what is going on. Hearing loss is generally divided into three categories according to the location of the loss: sensorineural hearing loss, conductive hearing loss, and mixed hearing loss. The following are some general descriptions of the causes, symptoms, and likely experiences of those who have each type of loss.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
The most common form of hearing loss occurs in the inner ear or auditory nervous pathway where sounds are translated into electrical impulses that are funneled to the brain for understanding. Many people incur damage to the inner ear as part of the natural process of life. Sounds enter the ear constantly from birth to death, and that constant inundation of sound can take its toll on the tiny hairs of the inner ear, making them insensitive to some of the vibrations they once were able to detect. Damage to these tiny hairs is irreversible, necessitating other types of hearing assistance to restore sensitivity.
Although the most common cause of sensorineural hearing loss, as mentioned, is simply exposure to sound throughout life, other things can cause this type of hearing loss, as well. Specifically, exposure to a sudden damaging sound, working in a loud industrial site, or extended use of headphones at unnecessarily loud levels can all contribute.
Beyond these common causes, injuries, illnesses, and serious infections such as meningitis, mumps, scarlet fever, and the measles can all contribute to sensorineural hearing loss. Some specific symptoms of this type of loss include perceiving sound to be quieter than it actually is, muffled or distorted sounds of voices, difficulty picking out one voice from another in a room, or buzzing, humming, or whirring sounds.
Conductive Hearing Loss
As opposed to sensorineural hearing loss that is located in the inner ear, conductive hearing loss takes place where sound is first “conducted” toward the brain: the outer and middle regions of the auditory pathway. As opposed to damage to those tiny hairs in the inner ear, conductive hearing loss tends to be due to damage or an obstruction in the outer regions of the ear, including causes as simple as wax buildup or the presence of a foreign body or object in the ear to the effects of illnesses such as otitis externa (or swimmer’s ear), or otitis media (or a common ear infection). These latter conditions result due to harmful bacteria being trapped in the ear where they can do damage to hearing ability. Some of the symptoms include pain, fluid discharge, and the feeling of pressure in the ears. A person with conductive hearing loss may also find that the condition only affects one ear or affects one ear much more than the other.
Mixed Hearing Loss
When a combination of conditions occurs in multiple parts of the auditory pathway, a person is said to have mixed hearing loss. The causes and symptoms of this type of loss will draw from the two other types of hearing loss, sometimes making it difficult to discern the nature of the problem.
Professional Hearing Services
If you’ve experienced changes in your hearing, reach out to our team at Professional Hearing Services. We provide comprehensive hearing health services, from hearing testing to hearing aid fittings to custom hearing protection. Contact us today to learn more.