If you or a loved one are having trouble with your hearing, it’s natural to want to know more about what’s happening. Identifying the problem is often the first step in finding a solution. There are three basic categories of hearing impairment: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed.
Conductive hearing loss (CHL) refers to the condition of sound not getting through the outer or middle ear to the inner ear. Since it’s the inner ear that carries sound to the brain, sounds that don’t reach the inner ear cannot be heard. Possible causes of this condition are earwax buildup, fluid in the middle ear, ear infection, benign tumors, a ruptured eardrum, ear trauma, or a foreign object in the ear.
The good news is that CHL is treatable. Treatment is based on the cause of the patient’s CHL. Most cases of CHL can be treated with medication. After treatment, patients with CHL can experience complete or partial restoration of their hearing. In the event that medication doesn’t resolve the problem, other options to address CHL are hearing aids or surgery.
By far, sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) is the most common type of hearing impairment. SNHL is the result of damage to either the inner ear or the auditory nerve. SNHL is characterized by both a decreased ability to hear low sounds and a distortion of loud sounds. Symptoms of SNHL include difficulty understanding what others say, making frequent requests for people to repeat themselves, difficulty following conversations, and turning up the audio on electronic devices to a high level.
The most common causes of SNHL are aging and exposure to loud noise. Other possible causes are head trauma, certain illnesses, ototoxic medications, and a malformed inner ear. While SNHL usually cannot be treated with medicine or surgery, a hearing care professional can provide someone with SNHL with an appropriate hearing aid. Most people who use a hearing aid to address SNHL find that the hearing aid is beneficial.
When a person has both CHL and SNHL that condition is referred to as mixed hearing loss. Its causes and treatments are the same as outlined above for the individual conditions.
Treating a hearing problem can improve your quality of life. If you or a loved one are experiencing trouble with your hearing, your next step should be to schedule a hearing examination with a hearing care professional. Help is available. Don’t let fear or embarrassment stop you from receiving the hearing care you deserve.