The Different Types of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is something that can affect anyone, of any age. It is normal for hearing to become less sensitive as you enter old age, but serious and sudden hearing impairment is not normal. There are many things that can cause sudden hearing loss. Most of these things are treatable, and if they are identified early then full hearing can be restored. Let’s take a closer look at some of the main causes of hearing loss.


Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss is caused when the body loses the ability to convert the vibrations in the inner ear into signals that are sent to the brain to be processed as sound. This kind of hearing loss often happens following an ear infection. It is often misdiagnosed as simple conductive hearing loss (from being ‘bunged up’ by a cold). In fact, the infection which causes this hearing loss is often just a cold or influenza.

Sensorineural hearing loss is reversible if it is caught quickly, but if it goes untreated for a long time then it could lead to serious, lasting hearing impairment. The swelling actually compresses and damages the nerves. If the patient is given steroids to bring down the swelling, then the nerves may be able to repair themselves. However, if the nerves are so severely damaged that they have begun to die off, then the damage can be irreversible.

The test to tell the difference between simple cold-related hearing loss and nerve damage is simple. A doctor will hit a tuning fork and place it on the patient’s forehead, directly in the centre. Someone who has conductive hearing loss will report that the sound from the fork is the same volume in both ears. Someone with sensorineural hearing loss may report that one side is louder than the other. This simple test allows for quick diagnosis and could save patients from permanent hearing impairment.




Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss is a form of hearing impairment that is caused by something preventing the sounds in the environment from causing vibrations in the inner ear. This could be fluid in the ear itself, or a build up of wax. This type of hearing loss is easy to treat and does not tend to be long lasting. In many cases, excess fluid is caused by an infection and will go away on its own without causing lasting damage. Excess earwax can be removed with drops or using a syringe. Usually, this type of hearing loss comes on slowly, and may go un-noticed until it reaches a point where it is making day-to-day activities difficult.

Children often suffer from infections that cause temporary conductive hearing loss, and this is usually not a cause for concern. However, it is important to have the cause of the hearing loss formally diagnosed, because there are some conditions which can cause lasting damage.


Other Causes of Hearing Problems

There are several other things which can cause hearing issues. Some people are born with damage to the cochlear or to the nerves that transmit auditory signals to the brain. In addition, hearing loss can occur following a stroke or a traumatic brain injury, or as a result of damage to the eardrum caused by listening to very loud music, or being hit on the ear.

It is important that you take hearing loss seriously. If you experience sudden, severe hearing loss then you should talk to your doctor immediately. If someone you know is slurring their speech, nauseated, struggling to think clearly, and is struggling to understand spoken instructions, call an ambulance immediately. Hearing impairment can be a sign of a stroke, and this is something that should be treated promptly.

Often, conductive hearing loss is temporary and with treatment full hearing can be restored. Rapid diagnosis and treatment is essential to ensure the best chance of this, however. Even hearing loss caused by loud noises will sometimes pass, however repeated exposure to loud noise will cause long-lasting damage, which is why it is so important for those who work in loud environments to wear ear protection at all times.


When to Worry About Hearing Loss

Hearing loss in and of itself is not usually dangerous, but it can have a massive impact on your quality of life. It can also be a sign of an underlying health condition, and for this reason it is worth getting it diagnosed early. If your doctor is unable to identify an obvious cause for the hearing loss (meaning it is ‘idiopathic’) then they may advise watchful waiting for a few days before carrying out further tests. During this time you should take care when performing day to day activities – losing your hearing could affect your ability to perform tasks such as crossing roads or operating machinery.

You should seek urgent medical advice (call an ambulance or go to an emergency center) if you suffer hearing loss after a head injury, or if the hearing loss is accompanied by a loss of balance, nausea or vomiting, slurred speech, numbness or weakness.

You should call a doctor if you experience long-lasting hearing loss after travelling by air (short term muffled hearing after landing is normal, but if it does not quickly return this could be a sign of a damaged ear drum), or if you experience hearing impairment after taking medication.

If you notice that your hearing is getting worse over time, or  if you have a problem that you think is caused by earwax but it does not get better after using eardrops, make an appointment to see a doctor.

It is particularly important that hearing problems in children are closely monitored, because it can often take longer for hearing loss to be noticed in young children, meaning that by the time parents realise there is a problem beyond a simple cold or fever, time is already of the essence to ensure that the child has the best possible chance of making a full recovery.


More About Hearing Loss

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