A good sense of hearing is vital for effective communication. When we can hear properly, we can respond accordingly to people and the environment. Hearing allows us to enjoy music as well as alert us if there is trouble nearby. But what happens if our hearing becomes impaired? What are the causes and types of hearing loss?
The Parts of the Ear
The types of hearing loss we will discuss in the next section will depend largely on the ear’s anatomy. Hearing impairment can happen when something is wrong in any of the parts of the ear.
- Outer Ear. The outer ear consists of the external ear that we see on the sides of our head. It also includes the ear canal and the tympanic membrane, which is the border between the outer ear and the middle ear.
- Middle Ear. This is the part often affected by an infection. It consists of the eardrum and three bones that send the vibration of the eardrum to the inner ear.
- Inner Ear. The inner ear has the following parts: cochlea, semicircular canals, and the nerves. The snail-shaped cochlea is the organ for hearing, the semicircular canals are for balance, and the nerves bring the messages to the brain.
Types of Hearing Loss
Conductive Hearing Loss
This type of hearing loss happens when something stops the sound from reaching the outer or middle ear. The following can cause this type of hearing impairment:
- Infection. Middle ear infection or otitis media can cause temporary hearing loss. Children are often affected by this condition. External otitis or infection in the outer ear may also cause deafness. This is commonly called “swimmer’s ears.”
- Congenital problems. Some people are born without an outer ear; others have problems in their middle ear bones, while some may have a deformed ear canal. All this may contribute to conductive hearing loss.
- Fluids in the middle ear. Various things can cause the occurrence of fluid in the ear. For instance, allergies and cold can cause an accumulation of fluid. A problem with the Eustachian tube may also confine fluids in the middle ear. The Eustachian tube is the tube that connects the ear to the throat.
- Physical obstruction. At times, conductive hearing loss may be caused by physical obstruction. This typically happens with children who play and get small objects (like pebbles) in their ear. Additionally, earwax or cerumen, and a tumor may also get stuck in the ear.
- Perforation of the eardrum. Like mentioned, the types of hearing loss depend on a malfunction in one of the parts of the ear. One example is when a hole (perforation) forms in the eardrum.
Conductive hearing loss can mostly be treated with medication or surgery. At times, the doctor may also advise you to wear a hearing aid. Commonly, a person with conductive hearing loss may hear better in a noisy environment. They will also hear better when talking on the phone. The good news is that this type of hearing loss seldom causes total and permanent hearing impairment.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
If a conductive hearing loss happens when the outer or inner ear is affected, sensorineural hearing loss occurs with problems in the inner ear. Deafness may also arise from damage to the nerves that send messages to and from the ears and brain.
The causes of sensorineural hearing loss are:
- Noise. Constant and prolonged exposure to loud noises can damage the inner ear. Some people may also turn deaf after hearing a loud explosion.
- Genetics. There are instances when hearing loss runs in the family.
- Congenital ear problems. Just like the case in conductive hearing loss, problems in ear formation may also cause sensorineural hearing impairment.
- Aging. As we age, the hearing function may be diminished, causing deafness.
- Injury to the head. Head trauma may cause hearing loss. One good example is a hard blow to the head due to an accident.
- Medication. Some medications may cause deafness.
- Diseases or infection. An autoimmune disease to the ear, as well as some viral infections in children, may cause sensorineural hearing loss.
Among the types of hearing loss, sensorineural hearing impairment is the common cause of permanent deafness. Hearing aids may help, but typically, surgery and medications will not improve the situation. Some doctors, however, order corticosteroids to reduce swelling if the inflammation of the cochlea is involved.
Mixed Hearing Loss
Mixed hearing loss happens when you have a problem in your middle or outer ear and inner ear or the nerves connecting the brain and the ears. In this instance, conductive hearing loss happens at the same time as sensorineural hearing loss.
Among the three types of hearing loss, mixed hearing impairment gives the most trouble to the patient because there is more than one problem. To treat mixed hearing loss, the doctor must first ascertain if the problem is more of a conductive hearing loss or more of a sensorineural hearing loss. Commonly, the doctor will take care of the conductive hearing loss first. There have been cases when managing conductive hearing impairment improves the condition of the patient.
Some Tips to Prevent Hearing Loss
Knowing about the types of hearing loss will make it easier for you to prevent future problems. Practice the tips below to better take care of your ears:
- Protect your ears. If the nature of your work exposes you to loud sounds, it is best to wear protective equipment, like glycerine-filled earmuffs. At home, be sure to turn down the volume when listening to music using your earphones.
- Take care of your body in general. Some conditions like diabetes and heart diseases are linked to the acceleration of hearing loss. Eating a low-fat and low-sodium diet may also help you.
- Exercise. Physical workouts will help ensure proper blood flow in your ears.
- Quit smoking. Smoking increases the risk of hearing impairment since it can damage the inner ear.
- Have a regular ear check-up. You must especially do this if you regularly hear loud noises due to the nature of your work.
How Much is Too Much Noise?
More than identifying the types of hearing loss, you must also understand when a noise level is too loud. Sounds are measured using decibels. According to experts, sounds become dangerous at the 80-decibel mark. To help you gauge, a normal conversation is already at the 60-decibel mark. A power lawnmower or a noisy restaurant already has 80-89 decibels. A motorcycle has 96 to 100 decibels.
Please note that the hazard of loud noises also depends on the length of exposure and the impulsiveness of the sound.
Learn more about issues of the Ears, Nose, and Throat here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.