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Types of Hearing Loss – Sensorineural, Conductive and Mixed

The first step in determining the type of hearing loss that you or a loved one may be suffering from is to schedule a hearing test with a licensed audiologist. Each type of hearing loss can come with unique symptoms, as well as causes. Once you receive the results of the hearing test, treatment options best suited for the type of hearing loss will be discussed.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) occurs when there is either damage to the inner ear or the nerve pathway from the inner ear to the brain.  Usually, this type of hearing loss cannot be remedied medically or surgically.  The treatment for this type of hearing loss is often some form of amplification ie hearing aids.  This is the most common type of permanent hearing loss and possible causes include: 

  • Ototoxic drugs (medications that harm the inner ear)
  • Genetic or hereditary (family history of hearing loss)
  • Natural degeneration or aging
  • Head trauma
  • Congenital deformities (malformations of the ear that someone may be born with)
  • Noise induced hearing loss (exposure to loud noise)

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs in the middle or outer ear.  This type of hearing loss often can be treated medically and/or surgically.  Patients may work with both an audiologist and an ear, nose and throat physician to reclaim the hearing loss fully (or at least partially).  Some possible causes of conductive hearing loss include:

  • Otitis media (ear infection)
  • Tympanic membrane perforation (hole in the ear drum)
  • Cerumen impaction (ear wax occluding the ear canal)
  • External otitis (Swimmer’s ear)
  • Fluid in the middle ear from sinus or allergy issues or from a cold or flu
  • Congenital deformities (malformations of the outer ear, ear canal or middle ear (ear drum and/or ossicles (middle ear bones))
  • Eustachian tube dysfunction (abnormal middle ear pressure)
  • Foreign body in the ear canal (benign tumors, or other objects such as the cotton end of a Q-tip that has broken off and lodged itself in the ear canal)

Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing loss is combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing losses.  An example would be a patient that has age related hearing loss but also has an ear infection at the same time. 

After performing a complete audiological evaluation with an audiologist, results of that hearing test should be discussed including more information on the type of hearing loss the patient is suffering from.  Whichever type of hearing loss the patient is currently struggling with, different treatment options can then be discussed as to best help the patient.

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