You may have hearing loss and not be aware of it. People of all ages experience gradual hearing loss, often due to the natural aging process or long exposure to loud noise. Other causes of hearing loss include viruses or bacteria, heart conditions or stroke, head injuries, tumors, and certain medications. Treatment for hearing loss will depend on your diagnosis.
How does the hearing sense work?
The aural or hearing sense is a complex and intricate process. The ear is made up of three sections: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. These parts work together so you can hear and process sounds.
The outer ear, or pinna, is the part you can see. It picks up sound waves and the waves travel through the outer ear canal.
When the sound waves hit the eardrum in the middle ear, the eardrum starts to vibrate. When the eardrum vibrates, it moves three tiny bones in your ear. These bones are called the hammer (or malleus), anvil (or incus), and stirrup (or stapes). They help sound move along on its journey into the inner ear.
The vibrations travel to the cochlea, which is filled with liquid and lined with cells that have thousands of tiny hairs on their surfaces. The sound vibrations make the tiny hairs move. The hairs then change the sound vibrations into nerve signals, so your brain can interpret the sound.
Types of Hearing Loss
There are three types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed hearing loss. You can learn more about each type of hearing loss below.Conductive Hearing Loss:
Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound cannot adequately travel through the outer ear to the eardrum and small bones in the middle ear. Conductive hearing loss can often be treated medically or with surgery. There are many causes of this type of hearing loss, such as:
- Ear infections, referred to as otitis media
- Fluid from allergies or colds, called serous otitis media
- Infection in the ear canal, or external otitis
- Impacted earwax, or cerumen
- Malformation of the outer ear, canal, or middle ear
- Perforated eardrum
- Presence of a foreign body
- Benign tumors, cholesteatoma
When medical treatment has been exhausted, this loss can be treated with hearing aids.Sensorineural Hearing Loss:
Sensorineural hearing loss is a permanent loss that is best treated with hearing aids. It cannot be medically or surgically corrected. This loss occurs with damage to the inner ear, called cochlea, or to nerve pathways from the inner ear. Sensorineural hearing loss can result from:
- Genetic syndromes
- Head traumas
- Noise exposure
- Toxic drugs
- Various diseases
This type of loss can be treated with hearing aids.Mixed Hearing Loss:
If a patient has damage in the outer or middle ear and in the inner ear or auditory nerve, the hearing loss is referred to as mixed hearing loss. This is a combination of a conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. Once medically cleared, this hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids.
For more information on hearing aids, please review our hearing aids page.