Approximately 13% of Americans over age 12 have some form of hearing loss, and about 2% have disabling hearing loss. Despite the prevalence of hearing loss, however, there are a lot of misconceptions about it.
In this blog, board-certified ENT physician Dr. Conrad McCutcheon and licensed audiologist Marty Lippeatt, Au.D., at Memorial Village Sinus & Hearing in Houston, Texas, dive deeper into what it means to have hearing loss, what types of hearing loss exist, how they’re treated, and things you can do to prevent hearing loss.
What is hearing loss?
Hearing loss happens when any part of your auditory system isn’t functioning the way it should. It can range from mild to profound. Mild hearing loss means you might only struggle to hear softer sounds, while profound hearing loss means you’ve lost the ability to hear speech sounds and can only make out very loud sounds.
In addition to the degree of the problem, hearing loss is described in other ways:
- Is the hearing loss in one or both ears? (unilateral vs. bilateral hearing loss)
- Did the loss occur before you learned to speak (pre-lingual) or after (post-lingual)?
- Is your hearing loss the same in both ears (symmetrical) or is there a difference between your ears (asymmetrical)?
- Is your hearing loss gradually getting worse, or is it stable?
- Did the loss develop slowly or quickly?
- Is your hearing loss congenital (present at birth), or is it delayed-onset?
Understanding the answers to these questions helps our team understand what’s caused your hearing loss and to develop the best treatment for it.
3 types of hearing loss
Part of your treatment plan is shaped by the type of hearing loss you have. The three types of hearing loss are conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, or mixed.
1. Conductive hearing loss
Conductive hearing loss happens when soundwaves don’t reach your inner ear. Fluid in your ear, excessive earwax, eardrum or middle ear bone damage, or ear infections can contribute to the failure of sound waves to reach your inner ear.
In the case of conductive hearing loss, treatments rely on addressing the underlying condition, such as removing excessive earwax buildup. Conductive hearing loss due to eustachian tube dysfunction may also be reversed with an in-office procedure such as eustachian tube balloon dilation.
2. Sensorineural hearing loss
While conductive hearing loss is often caused by a physical blockage, sensorineural hearing loss happens when your auditory nerve isn’t sending the right signals to your brain.
Sensorineural hearing loss develops due to aging, but injuries to your nerve and exposure to loud sounds can also lead to this type of hearing loss. Unlike conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss is often permanent.
Hearing aids and aural rehabilitation can help restore your ability to hear and learn the strategies you need to thrive.
3. Mixed hearing loss
If you have both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, it’s referred to as mixed hearing loss. Your treatment may include treatments that address the blockages as well as assistive hearing devices to improve how you hear sounds.
Can you prevent hearing loss?
The answer to this question isn’t clear cut. While you may not be able to prevent some kinds of hearing loss, such as congenital hearing loss, you can take some steps to keep your ears healthy. This includes:
- Wearing hearing protection if you work in a noisy environment or if you’re operating loud equipment, including leaf blowers and lawnmowers
- Distance yourself from loud noise when possible, such as standing farther away from speakers playing loud music
- Setting safe volume levels for personal listening devices (less than 70db)
- Seeking treatment for chronic ear infections to prevent future incidents of conductive hearing loss
Never stick foreign items in your ear to clear out earwax or anything in your ear canal as this can lead to accidental eardrum injuries.
Are you concerned about hearing loss? We can help!
If you’ve noticed problems with your hearing and you’re worried about hearing loss, a comprehensive hearing evaluation can pinpoint the degree and type of hearing loss you have. Whether you need treatment for an underlying condition or an assistive listening device or hearing aid, our team at Memorial Village Sinus & Hearing is here to help you restore your quality of life.
Make an appointment today. You can call us at 281-822-3777 or use our online scheduling tool.