One in three people over the age of 65 have a mild, moderate, or severe hearing loss in one or both ears, according to the World Health Organization’s post “Deafness and hearing loss.” That’s 432 million adults and 34 million children with a disabling hearing loss.

Hearing loss is a collective term for a mix of different types and degrees of hearing loss. It might happen in one ear or both, and its particular makeup will be defined by how well you hear tone, pitch, volume, and words.

One of the main decisions for treatment is based on first looking at its cause.

What Causes Hearing Loss?

Every person’s hearing loss story is different, so the cause of one person’s hearing loss might be very different to the person’s beside them.

Although most people assume a hearing loss is due to old age, it can be caused by a number of things – an internal problem in the outer ear, middle ear, inner ear, or brain or an external force.

One thing that remains constant for anyone impacted by hearing loss is that knowing what it is and what’s causing it is key to finding the right solution.

The Different Types Of Hearing Loss

There are three main types of hearing loss: conductive – related to how easily sound waves travel through your auditory system, sensorineural – to do with degeneration of the auditory system, and mixed hearing loss – a combination of the two.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the sensors in the inner ear or to the auditory nerve. It can be acute or long term.

Acute Sensorineural Hearing Loss

This can happen in an instant, but 32% to 65% of these cases reverse themselves after a few days. It’s caused by:

  • Sudden loud-noise exposure such as an airbag going off, fireworks, explosives
  • Head injuries
  • Illness, ear infections
  • Ménière’s disease, meningitis, cancer

These causes mean a person will need to be seen by an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist as soon as possible.

Long-Term Sensorineural Hearing Loss

This happens very gradually, with the most difficulty hearing when there’s background noise. It’s often accompanied by tinnitus. It can be caused by:

  • Aging – almost 25% of 65- to 74-year-olds have a disabling hearing loss and 50% of people over 75
  • Long-term noise exposure from the work environment, outdoor hobbies such as hunting – globally, approx. 16% of adults have a disabling hearing loss that is related to loud-noise exposure from their job
  • High-volume earphone use
  • Congenital hearing loss
  • Genetic abnormalities of the auditory system
  • Ototoxic (damaging to the hearing) medications
  • Medical issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, autoimmune diseases

The sad thing is that noise-induced hearing loss is totally preventable by wearing hearing protection.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss is diagnosed when sound waves are obstructed by something in the outer, middle, or inner ear. Sounds seem less clear, muffled, or far away. Some people also complain of more pressure or pain in their ears than is normal, and their ears might feel plugged up.

Common causes of conductive hearing loss include:

  • Genetic malformations of the auditory system
  • Inflammation or pus from acute or chronic ear infections or an illness
  • A growth, cyst, bug, debris, or tumor in the ear canal
  • Previous ear surgeries
  • A ruptured or damaged eardrum
  • A large buildup of earwax

Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing loss is diagnosed when a person has both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, with damage to both the outer or middle ear and the inner ear.

Once you’ve had a professional hearing assessment and been told the exact type, cause, and level, you can get the best customized hearing treatment to optimize it

What Is Profound Hearing Loss And How Is It Treated?

What’s considered profound hearing loss is when a person is unable to hear speech unless the person is very close and speaking loudly.

While the treatment for profound hearing loss depends on many factors, hearing aids or a cochlear implant are the two most common options. I think the best hearing aid for profound hearing loss is ReSound’s ENZO Q.

What Is Moderate Hearing Loss?

What is considered moderate hearing loss is when you can’t hear softer sounds like a phone ringing, a car behind you, or a conversation at a normal volume. It’s also difficult to hear conversations in a noisy setting.

Hearing aids are a good treatment option for people with a moderate hearing loss, as they can be perfectly customized to make up for whatever aspects of your hearing are performing at a lower level.

What Is Mild To Moderate Hearing Loss?

Mild hearing loss means a person is likely unable to hear sounds like leaves rustling, a faucet dripping, a refrigerator humming, or a whispered conversation. Most people with a mild hearing loss are unaware they even have one, but it can still affect your lifestyle.

Children, especially, don’t do well in school with a mild hearing loss because they can’t hear words clearly, which means they’ll miss 25% to 40% of every lesson and delay all their learning milestones.

A lot of people would say that hearing aids aren’t needed for a mild hearing loss, but I disagree. The sooner hearing treatment is provided, the better the long-term outcome, especially for our kids.

What To Do If You Are Concerned About Hearing Loss

If you are concerned that you or a loved one might have a hearing loss, the best thing to do is to schedule a comprehensive audiological evaluation with an audiologist. This way, it can be determined:

  • If you have a hearing loss
  • The type of hearing loss you have
  • The degree of your hearing loss
  • The best hearing treatment

The sooner a hearing loss is treated, the better the outcome. Schedule your hearing test, or call if you have any questions about hearing loss for yourself or a loved one.

I look forward to helping you hear better.

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Dr. Michelle Couture-Souvenir, Au.D

Dr. Michelle Couture-Souvenir, Au.D., is Florida’s leading doctor of audiology and has over 25 years of experience in this dynamic industry. Before setting up her own business in Florida & Central America, she served as a pediatric audiologist and rehabilitative services manager at the Miami Children’s Hospital. She has worked with patients of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds during her long and diverse career, and she is still heavily involved in international humanitarian projects, helping hearing-impaired children globally.