Types of Hearing Loss

The ability to hear is a gift we don’t value enough.

It is such an integral part of life that people often take it for granted. Correcting hearing loss can significantly improve the quality of life.

About 1 in 10 people has some degree of hearing loss. It tends to develop slowly, so you may gradually adjust to reduced hearing, and not notice much. Think about it for a moment. You may have a hearing loss if:

  • family complain the TV or radio is too loud
  • people seem to mumble when they speak
  • you hear people speaking, but can’t quite understand what they are saying
  • you ask people to repeat what they said more often
  • understanding conversation in a group or noisy restaurant is more difficult for you than for others
  • listening intensely is frustrating and tires you quickly
  • people say you talk loudly
  • you have a hard time telling where sounds are coming from
  • your ears ring or roar

Types of Hearing Loss

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

This type of hearing loss is due to a problem with the inner ear nerve cells that create the electrical impulses or the auditory nerve that transmits them. They can be damaged by things like loud noise exposure, trauma, metabolic diseases that reduce blood flow or affect blood chemistry (hypertension, atherosclerosis, diabetes, etc.), autoimmune disorders, viruses, exposure to certain drugs, a genetic tendency for nerve cell degeneration with aging, or very rarely, a non-cancerous tumor (affecting the auditory nerve).

Most adult hearing loss is sensorineural. It can be any degree of hearing loss and may affect some or all pitches (often high pitches). It is not usually able to be helped with medical or surgical treatment, but more than ninety percent of the time it can be improved with hearing aids. A cochlear implant—a device that can generate electrical impulses—is a surgical treatment which is only appropriate for severe to profound hearing losses that don’t receive enough help from hearing aids.

Conductive Hearing Loss

This type of hearing loss is due to a blockage or reduction of sound transmission through the ear canal or middle ear space. Hearing may be impaired for all or some pitches, often low pitches. Common causes include earwax buildup, a perforated eardrum, damaged middle ear bones, infection and fluid in the middle ear space. This fluid may develop due to swollen or blocked Eustachian tubes (an air passage between the middle ear space and the upper part of the throat, behind the nose). Colds or allergies can cause the Eustachian tube to swell and enlarged adenoids can block the opening.

Conductive hearing loss is the most common type found in children but is found in only about ten percent of adults. It can be a minimal, mild, moderate or moderately-severe degree of hearing loss, but it can usually be successfully treated or at least improved with medical or surgical treatment.

Other Types of Hearing Loss:

A mixed hearing loss has more than one cause and is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. Another type of hearing loss is central, which is a problem with the way the brain processes or interprets sound.

Degrees of Hearing Loss

Hearing is measured in deciBels (dB) using tones of various pitches (pure tone frequencies labeled in Hertz, or Hz). Hearing loss may be labeled with one of the following degrees, but often the degree of hearing loss will be different for some pitches than for others. (Audiologists generally avoid classifying hearing loss using percent, as the percent of loss formula was developed for legal compensation reasons and is misleading for real life use.)

Normal (15dB or less in children, 25dB or less in adults)

Minimal (16-25dB):

A term used for hearing loss in children that might be called slight or borderline-normal in adults. The normal range is smaller in children, because their hearing needs to be very good during language and listening skills development. To reduce the risk of educational difficulties, children with minimal hearing loss may need treatment or monitoring.

Mild (26-40dB):

A person with mild hearing loss typically is unable to hear soft sounds and has difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments. The term “mild” is a bit misleading. It doesn’t mean treatment isn’t needed. Mild hearing loss in children MUST be treated, as it can lead to language development or learning difficulties, and fatigue from straining to hear in the classroom. Adults with active lifestyles or demanding jobs will notice significant benefit from getting treatment for their mild hearing loss. Other adults may benefit socially and emotionally from staying in contact with all the little sounds of life that surround us.

Moderate (41-55dB):

With moderate hearing loss, a person is unable to hear soft and moderately loud sounds and has considerable difficulty understanding speech, especially in background noise. Treatment is recommended for moderate or worse hearing loss.

Moderately-severe (56-70dB):

A person with moderately-severe hearing loss is unable to hear normal level or slightly loud speech.

Severe (71-90dB):

With severe hearing loss a person is unable to hear most sounds, and speakers must raise their voice considerably to be heard.

Profound (91dB or greater):

A person with profound hearing loss may be able to hear some very loud sounds but communicating is very difficult. When hearing loss is profound at most pitches, a person is often considered to be deaf.

Hearing loss doesn’t have to take over your life.

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