There are three main types of hearing: sensorineural hearing loss, conductive hearing loss and mixed hearing loss.
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Hearing loss can be isolating and worrying for the person experiencing it, it may also be very worrying for their partners, friends or family. Despite these concerns, there are solutions and remedies to the different kinds of hearing loss, ranging from medical treatment, surgery, or improving the quality of sound that those suffering from hearing loss have with hearing aids.
Hearing loss can happen at any point during a person’s lifetime.
You may be experiencing one or more of the following signs, or recognise them in someone you know:
– The volume of the radio or television is uncomfortably loud for those around you, and they ask for it to be turned down.
– Difficulty hearing what people are saying on the telephone.
– It becomes difficult to follow and join in on group conversations.
– Regularly needing to ask someone to repeat something they just said.
– Avoiding social situations involving a lot of noise.
Hearing loss is surprisingly common. One in six people in the UK [experience some kind of hearing loss. Often people experience hearing loss in later life, and after the age of 50, more than 40% of people experience some hearing loss. This increases to over 70% over the age of 70.
Your ear is an intricate and complex system, which is made up of three parts, all of which have a crucial part to play in enabling you to hear. These parts are the outer, the middle, and the inner ear. The type of hearing loss you experience depends on which part of the ear has been affected.
The outer ear
The outer ear includes the pinna and the ear canal. The pinna is the part of your ear that you can see on the sides of your head, and it is made up of cartilage and soft tissue. Sounds go into the pinna and down your ear canal, which is the tube that connects the outer ear and the middle ear.
The middle ear
Your eardrum sits at the end of your ear canal, and this is where the middle ear begins. The eardrum and the inner ear are connected by three very small bones called ossicles. This part of the ear transmits sounds from the outer ear to the inner ear. Your eardrum vibrates from the pressure of sound waves, and this causes the small bones to move and send signals to your inner ear.
The inner ear
The inner ear is made up of the cochlea, which is the snail-shaped bony part of your inner ear. The cochlea converts sounds into electrical impulses, and sends messages to your brain, through your auditory nerve – a bundle of nerve fibres which carry the information about sounds between the cochlea and the brain. Your brain then turns these impulses into sounds that we recognise and understand.
The inner ear also helps you to balance. This balancing mechanism is called the vestibular and is made up of the semicircular canals, utricle, and saccule. These chambers contain fluid and tiny hair fibres. The fluid in these passages moves around along with the body’s movements and trigger the hair fibres, which then, in turn, send messages to your brain about your balance.
Below are details of the three different types of hearing loss, which part of the ear they are related to, and details on how they can be identified and treated.
Ear infections in children are a common cause of conductive hearing loss.
Conductive hearing loss
Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound cannot travel from your outer ear to your inner ear.
This is sometimes caused by an obstruction or damage to the middle or outer ear and can make sounds seem quieter and more muffled.
Causes of conductive hearing loss include:
– Ear wax or fluids blocking the ear canal.
– An ear infection.
– Inhibited Eustachian tube function. This is the tube which allows fluid to drain from the middle ear to the nose, and if this is not possible, fluid can remain in the middle ear.
– A perforated eardrum.
– A benign tumour.
– Earwax blocking the ear canal.
– An issue with how the outer or middle ear is formed.
How do I know if I have conductive hearing loss?
– You may find it difficult to hear or understand speech.
– You may feel that your own voice sounds different to you when you are talking.
– You may notice a strange sensation or pain in one or both ears.
– You may notice a feeling of pressure in one or both ears.
– You may notice a strange odour coming from one or both ears.
Sensorineural hearing loss
Sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by either damage to the hair cells which line the vestibular in the inner ear, or damage to the nerve pathways between your inner ear and your brain, or by both of these things. Sensorineural hearing loss decreases the quality of the sound you hear and makes softer or quieter sounds become difficult to hear.
Causes of sensorineural hearing loss include:
– Exposure to very loud noise, which damages the hair cells in the inner ear.
– Trauma to the head or ear.
– Certain drugs can be toxic to hearing.
– A deformity in the inner ear.
– Hereditary hearing loss.
– Illness or infection.
How do I know if I have sensorineural hearing loss?
– You may have noticed that you have a reduced ability to hear quieter sounds.
– An inability to hear when there is a lot of background noise.
– You are struggling to hear high pitched sounds.
– You feel dizzy or have balance problems.
– You have tinnitus
What treatments are available?
Unfortunately, most cases of Sensorineural hearing loss are impossible to treat, and most cases are permanent. This is mainly because the hair cells in the inner ear do not regenerate and cannot be repaired or reproduced.
However, a hearing aid may be able to improve the quality of sound heard, and a cochlear implant is another option for more acute cases.
Mixed hearing loss
Sometimes conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss happen at the same time, and there may be damage to both the outer or middle ear, and the parts of the ear sending signals to the brain in the inner ear. This is called mixed hearing loss.
This type of hearing loss can affect one or both ears and can be fairly mild or quite serious.
Mixed hearing loss can cause the volume of sounds to seem very soft, which can make speech difficult to understand, and can mean that the person will struggle to distinguish between different sounds.
How do I know if I have mixed hearing loss?
– You may find yourself regularly asking people to repeat themselves
– You might also try to avoid noisy situations and you may find the effort of trying to hear and understand what people are saying to you during conversation more tiring.
– You may find some noises too loud or too quiet.
Causes of mixed hearing loss can include a combination of two or more of the above-detailed cases for both conductive and sensorineural hearing Loss. For example, you may have some inner ear damage from prolonged exposure to loud noise, but you may also be suffering from an ear infection or excess ear wax, which is blocking your ear canal. In the case of mixed hearing loss, a combination of treatments may be the best option.
Initially, if you have any concerns about your hearing, the best thing you can do is to schedule an appointment at a hearing clinic. Here you will be able to work with an audiologist who can diagnose the type and extent of your hearing loss, and talk you through possible treatment options.
For help getting started with a hearing assessment and the best treatment specifically for you, get in touch with our friendly team today. We can help support and guide you to ensure you have the knowledge and products that will help improve the quality of your hearing in day-to-day life.
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Great progress in the treatment, cure, and prevention of hearing loss.
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I had experienced hearing loss since a teenager but I was really starting to really struggle when out with friends in a noisy bars and restaurants. I bought a pair of hearing aids from Hearing Solutions that are concealed in my ear, they link to my phone so I can control the settings, but also listen to music and have phone calls through them. Best purchase ever.
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