Hearing loss is a growing problem in the U.S. and across the world, but many people have a very limited understanding of their auditory system. If you’re looking for more information about hearing, hearing loss and hearing treatments, this page is a great place to get started.
There are three types of hearing loss, each of which has different causes, effects and treatments. The types of hearing loss differ based on the part of the ear that’s affected. Before you can fully understand the different kinds of hearing loss, it’s important to understand the anatomy of the ear.
The Parts of the Ear
The ear comprises three parts: the outer ear, which is the visible portion and includes the bowl-shaped concha where sound enters the ear; the middle ear, which contains the ear canal, ear drum (tympanic membrane) and three tiny bones called ossicles; and the inner ear, which consists of the cochlea, a bean-shaped, fluid-filled structure covered in tiny hair cells. In addition to the ear, your auditory system contains a bundle of auditory nerves that transmit signals from the inner ear to the brain’s hearing center.
Types of Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss accounts for about 90% of all hearing impairments and is related to the inner ear. This type of hearing loss is typically permanent. It most commonly occurs due to loud noise exposure or the natural aging process, though there are many other possible causes for sensorineural damage. Hearing aids are by far the most common treatment option for those with sensorineural hearing loss, though in some cases, a patient may need implanted devices such as bone-anchored hearing aids or cochlear implants.
Conductive hearing loss is caused by a problem in the outer or middle ear. These losses are most commonly temporary in nature and can be treated with medication or surgery. Treatment for conductive hearing loss varies based on the circumstances. Hearing aids are often the best answer when surgery is not possible, because they significantly improve hearing and are convenient. There are many potential causes of conductive hearing loss, including malformation of the outer or middle ear structures, middle ear infections, abnormal bone growths in the middle ear, a hole in the eardrum or poor Eustachian tube function.
Mixed hearing loss occurs when a patient is experiencing both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss simultaneously in the same ear. This is the least common type of hearing loss. It has a broad range of causes and treatments depending on the individual circumstances and healthcare needs. Treatment typically includes surgery, medication and/or hearing aids.
The Benefits of Binaural Hearing
Hearing loss typically affects both ears equally, but many people experience different severities of hearing loss in each ear. While it may be intuitive to only treat the “worse” ear for these patients, there are many reasons why treating hearing loss in both ears is beneficial.
Binaural hearing is a term that refers to hearing the same in both ears. Patients with single-sided hearing loss have monaural hearing. Healthy hearing in both ears is advantageous for many reasons, including:
- It takes advantage of our ears’ natural ability to localize sound and determine which direction it’s coming from
- It improves hearing in noisy situations where there is distracting background noise
- It reduces stress on the cognitive system, which lowers the risk of cognitive decline and even conditions like dementia
- It improves ability to decipher speech in any setting
These are just some of many advantages created when both of your ears are hearing equally. If you’d like to learn more about why binaural hearing is an important part of your overall physical and mental health, schedule an appointment at Arizona Hearing Specialists for a consultation and assessment today!