Contrary to popular belief, hearing loss is not an inevitable part of growing older and you should be able to enjoy all the sounds of life for many decades. Hearing loss can be caused by many different factors. Whether you have hereditary hearing loss, damage from overexposure to loud noises, an untreated medical condition, or another cause, knowing the cause and type of loss improves your ability to treat it.
Hearing loss can be divided into three main categories: Sensorineural, conductive, and mixed hearing loss. These categories are further broken down into the typical causes of hearing loss within each category.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss. It typically involves damage to either the auditory nerve, the inner ear, or the tiny hairs that catch and transmit sound waves known as steriocilia. This type of hearing loss has several causes, with the most well-known causes being long-term exposure to dangerous levels of noise and deterioration of the inner ear due to aging. Other causes of sensorineural hearing loss include Meniere’s Disease, diseases of the blood vessels, infections such as measles or meningitis, and several autoimmune diseases. Tumors, head trauma, and certain medications can also cause this type of hearing loss, and the deterioration can often occur quickly. Proper diagnosis is important, as underlying diseases may otherwise continue to accelerate hearing loss.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is an issue preventing sound from traveling effectively from the outer ear to the middle ear canal to the inner ear and auditory nerve. This sort of hearing loss is often caused by physical damage and is treatable with hearing aids or surgery.
Common causes of conductive hearing loss are ear infections, chronic untreated allergies, fluid in the middle ear, and impacted ear wax. Other reasons for this type of hearing loss include, but are not limited to, benign tumors, perforated eardrums, foreign objects in the ear, and physical malformation of the outer or middle ear canal.
Some of these causes, such as a perforated ear drum or foreign object in the ear, can cause both severe pain and sudden hearing loss. If you experience severe pain or a sudden loss in hearing, contact a medical professional immediately.
Mixed Hearing Loss
Mixed hearing loss occurs when both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss are present. This means that you might have both damage to your outer ear and to your inner ear or auditory nerve. Mixed hearing loss can occur for several reasons, but it can often be related to some sort of trauma to the ear. One sort of hearing loss can lead to another resulting in hearing loss caused from multiple sources. Consider someone who has Meniere’s disease and eventually develops tinnitus, a constant ringing in the ears that drowns out normal sounds. A less common cause of mixed hearing loss is otosclerosis. Otosclerosis, a hereditary disease, occurs when there is bone overgrowth around the bones in your middle ear canal. This overgrowth prevents the bones from vibrating with sound, and passing the sound into the inner ear. Otosclerosis can be categorized as both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss, and can be treated effectively with both hearing aids and surgery.
Knowing why you are not able to hear clearly is an important part of correcting your hearing. Our hearing specialists at Colorado Ear Center will look into all of the potential causes of your hearing loss so that we can start you on the path to better hearing!