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Articles | Hearing Loss

A Complete Guide to the Different Types of Hearing Loss

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If you’re unfamiliar with the science behind hearing loss, you may not realize that not everyone’s hearing loss is created equal. In fact, there are three different types: conductive, sensorineural (which includes noise-induced), and mixed. The main difference between them is the physical location of the problem within the ear.

If you don’t believe you’re experiencing any symptoms of hearing loss, it’s still important to understand each type so that you can take proper preventative measures. (Don’t forget that annual hearing tests are recommended for everyone!) If you do think you might have hearing loss, this guide can help you better understand how and why your hearing healthcare professional might recommend certain devices to fit your hearing needs.


Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive Hearing Loss

If your hearing loss is conductive, that means sounds can’t get from the outer ear, which is the visible part, to the eardrum and tiny bones (ossicles) of the inner ear. There might be something blocking the ear canal, like earwax or fluids, or the problem might come from allergies or illness. An ear infection or a perforated eardrum are also possible causes.

While other types of hearing loss make it difficult to both hear and understand sounds, conductive hearing loss usually just causes the “volume” of sounds to seem lower. It may be much harder to hear faint sounds, and loud sounds might not seem as loud.

Sometimes simply clearing excessive wax or fluids out of the ear canal will correct conductive hearing loss. In other cases, hearing aids or surgically inserted devices can help the sound waves get to the inner ear and restore your hearing as much as possible.

Though it’s not always preventable, the best way to protect against conductive hearing loss is to take good care of your ears. Refrain from using cotton swabs to clean them, as this could possibly damage the eardrum and might push the earwax beyond reach. That being said, a little bit of earwax is actually good for you, as it guards the inner ear from dust and such. You should also protect your ears from excessive noise exposure and keep them dry.


Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

If you have sensorineural hearing loss (as 90% of people with hearing loss do), this means the problem occurs in either the cochlea (which transforms sound into signals that get sent to the brain) or the hearing nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain. Things like age, illness, noise exposure, genetics, and head trauma can all deteriorate these parts’ ability to function. Unfortunately, it is not reversible.

People with sensorineural hearing loss have difficulty with sound volume and clarity, especially when it comes to understanding speech. Sounds may seem muffled, and people may seem to mumble.

Although sensorineural hearing loss cannot it can be effectively treated with hearing aids, which amplify and process the sounds around you so you can both hear and understand. It’s estimated that 95% of all hearing losses can be helped by hearing aids! However, if someone has severe to profound hearing loss that can’t be helped through hearing aids, they may be a candidate for cochlear implants, which provide direct electrical stimulation to the auditory nerve.

Sometimes people experience sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL), often called sudden deafness. This condition is characterized by a rapid loss of hearing, whether that happens in just an instant or over a course of up to three days. If you or a loved one experience SSHL, treat it as an emergency and see a doctor right away. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, about half of people who experience SSHL recover some or all of their hearing within one to two weeks from onset. 85% of people who seek treatment will recover at least some of their hearing.

Though not all sensorineural hearing loss can be prevented, the best thing you can do is protect yourself against noise-induced hearing loss. Learn more about noise exposure and preventative measures here.


Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed Hearing Loss

People who have both conductive and sensorineural symptoms are said to have mixed hearing loss. This can happen if there is a blockage or damage to the outer or middle ear as well as the cochlea or auditory nerve in the inner ear. Mixed hearing loss is caused by a combination of factors that contribute to conductive hearing loss and those that contribute to sensorineural hearing loss.

Hearing healthcare professionals often find it beneficial to treat the conductive factors first, since they can often be cured. Then they’ll be able to better assess the extent of your sensorineural hearing loss and provide you with devices to help.

If you think you might have hearing loss, the most important thing you can do is get your hearing checked by a professional as soon as possible. It’s not a good idea to leave hearing loss untreated, as it’s been linked with other health conditions and puts stress on your life and relationships.

Even if you aren’t experiencing symptoms right now, it’s recommended that everyone get an annual hearing test. Just like a regular physician checkup, annual screenings will allow you to monitor your hearing health and take action as soon as any changes occur.

The first step is to connect with your local EarQ professional and make an appointment by phone or online.

Schedule Your Annual Screening


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Put Your Hearing to the Test

Sometimes, hearing loss happens so gradually that it can be difficult to notice at first. However, there are some common signs that indicate you may have hearing loss. Want some answers now? Take this short survey to determine if it's time for you to make a hearing appointment.

Take a 3-minute hearing test!

Read the following statements and select “yes” if they apply to you most of the time, “sometimes” if they apply once in a while, and “no” if they don't apply at all.

I have trouble hearing the other person on the phone.


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