Jennifer Esse, a doctor of audiology, discusses the three major types of hearing loss and their possible causes.
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There are three major types of classifications or types of hearing losses. The first one would be sensorineural. And the plain and simple term analogy for that would be nerve hearing loss. On the old way that people used to talk about it was nerve deafness. And we’ve moved away from that terminology into the world of nerve hearing loss because deafness really implies no hearing. So, we’re going to vary away from using that word for now, moving forward but sensorineural hearing loss really is damage to the hearing nerve components that the brain needs to receive sound. So, if you have hearing loss that is sensorineural, the nerves have been damaged. The second type is conductive hearing loss. That means that sound cannot conduct into the ears from outside moving into the ear canals this way, via air conduction. If there’s a blockage such as wax, ear infection, middle ear fluid, a foreign body in the ear canal, that doesn’t allow the sound to conduct into the ear. And so, we call that a conductive hearing loss. And most often that type of hearing loss may be treatable. We would usually refer on to an M.D., a physician to determine if they could treat that type of hearing loss. Whereas sensorineural hearing loss, 95% of the time is not treatable with medicine or surgery. So, there is a big difference there. The third type of hearing loss is a combination of the two and we call it a “mixed hearing loss”. That would be a combination of both a conductive and a sensorineural hearing loss. And what we would, our best would be to determine if the conductive portion could be remedied. If the conductive portion can be remedied, we would send them to the physician as before. And then, they would return to an audiologist for treatment for the sensorineural part of the hearing loss. So, the better part of my job is dealing with persons who have sensorineural hearing loss. About 95% of the populations I service are those with sensorineural hearing loss. Many variables can take place as we go through life. One of the main causes of hearing loss is due to aging. The medical terminology is “presbycusis”. And that simply means hearing loss due to the aging process. So, commonly we’ll see people over the age of 65 developing presbycusis. Another main reason people get hearing loss is noise exposure and that can happen at any time in life. It can be a traumatic noise like an explosion, or it can be gradual noise build up as a factory worker may experience in their job. So, we track for noise exposure over time as well. Other variables may be family history. If you are in a family that has a propensity towards hearing loss, you want to have your hearing examined very early on because you may be at risk for hearing loss. There are some congenital disorders that cause hearing loss, cytomegalovirus for example carries a very high incidence of hearing loss. The short term for that is CMV. There are many other incident instances of measles, mumps, and rubella that also can cause hearing loss. So, anything that at birth would be a risk factor we would take into consideration as well. Anything that’s in the ear canal can cause a hearing loss as I mentioned wax, foreign bodies. Children often place rocks, peas, food in their ear canal that can block the passage of a sound into the ear that can cause hearing loss. Fluid behind the ear drum such as would happen in an ear infection or prior to an ear infection can cause hearing loss. Explosion, I used that over and over because that is truly a traumatic event; a gun fire, a gunshot going off near you within a 10-foot radius. That’s extremely traumatic to the ears and the hearing mechanism. Also, if you’ve worked at a factory for example and there happened to be a steam explosion nearby, that’s another high, high noise issue that we would want to measure here in the office for a hearing evaluation. So, there are things that would prompt us to get the hearing tests sooner rather than later. Another reason too d