Sensorineural hearing loss refers to any reduction in hearing sensitivity or sound clarity that is caused by damage to the delicate structures of the inner ear or the nerve pathways that carry the sound signal from the inner ear to the auditory-processing area of the brain. Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss and affects 28 million Americans.
Sensorineural hearing loss is usually cumulative and occurs slowly. Exposure to very loud noise is the most common cause of sensorineural hearing loss, followed by aging (presbycusis). Certain medications and health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease are also known causes of sensorineural hearing loss.
Hearing aids are the primary treatment for sensorineural hearing loss as medical or surgical intervention is rarely possible. Correctly fit hearing aids stimulate the affected nerves in the inner ear and fill in the Sound Voids that most sufferers experience. Today’s hearing aid technology can even address “high-frequency” sensorineural hearing losses that were once thought to be untreatable. If hearing loss is severe, a cochlear implant may be recommended.
Since sensorineural hearing loss is often caused by exposure to loud noises, we highly recommend the use of hearing protection if you find yourself around loud noises frequently. If you are diabetic, keep your blood glucose levels well controlled. A healthy diet and regular exercise are a must to prevent the onset of heart disease and other medical problems that are also identified with hearing loss. A healthy lifestyle, excellent nutrition, and the use of well-fit hearing protection will help you hear for life.
A conductive hearing loss occurs when there is a problem with one or more of the parts of the ear that conduct sound into the inner ear. The ear canal, the eardrum, and the tiny bones in the middle ear make up the conductive system, and any hearing loss caused by a problem in one or more of these areas is called a conductive hearing loss. Unlike a sensorineural hearing loss, a conductive hearing loss occurs because the sound entering the ear is reduced or dampened by the obstruction; there is no damage to the delicate nerves in the inner ear. A conductive hearing loss can often be partially or completely reversed with medical intervention.
There are many potential causes of conductive hearing loss, with some causes being easier to treat than others. Malformation of the outer- or middle-ear structures, a middle-ear infection in which fluid accumulates behind the eardrum, abnormal bone growth in the middle ear, a hole in the eardrum, or poor eustachian tube function may be responsible for conductive hearing loss. Rarely, there may be more serious causes of conductive hearing loss, and these conditions, if left unidentified and untreated, may have profound medical consequences.
Treatment for conductive hearing loss varies based on the circumstances. Antibiotics or antifungal medications are usually prescribed for ear infections, whereas surgery is usually an option for malformed or abnormal outer- or middle-ear structures and other physical problems. Hearing aids are often the best answer when surgery is not possible, because they significantly improve hearing and are convenient. Though usually not necessary, implantable hearing devices such as a bone-anchored hearing aid are an excellent alternative if neither surgery nor a traditional hearing aid are feasible options.
When both conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss are present at the same time and in the same ear, it is referred to as mixed hearing loss or “combined-type” hearing loss. In this case, there is likely to be damage to the outer or middle ear as well as to the inner ear or auditory nerve.
Causes of mixed hearing loss vary wildly. Typically, the sensorineural hearing loss is already present, and the conductive hearing loss develops later and for an unrelated reason. Very rarely, a conductive hearing loss can cause a sensorineural hearing loss. As with sensorineural and conductive hearing losses, only a thorough diagnostic hearing and medical evaluation can identify a specific cause.
Medication or surgery may be the answer to the conductive portion of the mixed hearing loss, but these interventions cannot treat the sensorineural portion of the hearing loss. Many people who suffer from a mixed hearing loss will receive medical treatment for the conductive hearing but will have to use a hearing aids to treat the remaining sensorineural component of their hearing loss. Mild to severe sensorineural hearing loss can be helped through the use of hearing aids.
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