Why Are There Different Types of Hearing Loss?


They say that variety is the spice of life. While it’s nice to have options, in some cases the fewer your choices, the better. If there were only one type of hearing loss, for instance, treatment would be fairly standard, and everybody’s prognosis would be similar. But the ear is a complex organ consisting of three separate structures; damage to any of these sections will result in a different type of hearing loss.

What Causes Hearing Loss?

woman struggling to hear

If you’ve been diagnosed with hearing loss by a Lake Charles audiologist, you are part of a not-so-exclusive club. About 48 million Americans suffer from impaired hearing, a group that includes people of all ages – not just the elderly, as is commonly assumed. The most common causes of hearing loss in Louisiana include:

  • Aging. Presbycusis (hearing loss resulting from natural aging) affects one-third of adults by the age of 65. By age 75, half of all adults will experience some degree of hearing loss. It develops gradually and is the culmination of a lifetime of noise exposure. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. In addition to noise, other factors such as heredity, disease and ototoxic medications can cause hearing loss. Because presbycusis develops slowly, many people are unaware of their problem for months (or years).
  • Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL). Noise exposure is a common cause of hearing loss, especially in younger individuals. Unlike presbycusis, NIHL is preventable. It is the result of prolonged exposure to sounds louder than 85 decibels; the louder the sound and the longer you are in contact with its source, the quicker NIHL can occur. About 15 percent of adults in Lake Charles aged 20 to 69 experience NIHL, and 12.5 percent of children and adolescents aged 6 to 19 suffer from it. Activities that increase your risk include concerts, sporting events, hunting, and riding motorcycles, boats or snowmobiles. Earplugs are the best way to prevent NIHL and preserve your hearing.

Other Hearing Loss Factors

There are three main types of hearing loss:

  • Conductive Hearing Loss. Conductive hearing loss is the result of damage to the ear canal, eardrum or middle ear. It can be caused by structural deformities, fluid or wax accumulation in the middle ear, ear infection, allergies, eardrum perforations, foreign objects in the ear, otosclerosis and benign tumors. Conductive hearing loss may be reversed with surgery or medications.
  • Sensorineural Hearing Loss. Sensorineural hearing loss, also referred to as “nerve deafness,” occurs when there is damage to the inner ear. In addition to aging and noise exposure, it may be caused by trauma, viruses, autoimmune disorders, otosclerosis, Meniere’s disease, malformations of the inner ear and tumors. Hearing aids are the usual prescribed treatment for sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Mixed Hearing Loss. This is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss and, as its name applies, affects both the inner ear and middle and/or outer ears. Treatment depends on the underlying cause and might include a combination of medications, surgery and hearing aids.

But wait…we’re not done quite yet. Hearing loss is further categorized as being either monaural or binaural. Unilateral hearing loss (sometimes referred to as single-sided deafness) affects one ear only, while bilateral hearing loss affects both ears.

And you thought hearing loss was straightforward!

If you or a loved one is experiencing hearing loss, your Lake Charles audiologist can help answer any questions you might have and provide you with additional information.

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