Hearing Problems


What Are The Common Types of Hearing Problems?

Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting people today and is growing in prevalence with our aging population. Aging is a common cause of hearing loss, but there are many other causes and hearing loss is not restricted to the elderly. In fact, approximately half of all men with hearing loss are still of working age (under 65). Noise exposure, certain medications, infections and many other things can cause hearing loss. These causes can result in different types of hearing loss, with different symptoms and treatments.

The Common Types of Hearing Problems

1. Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss means there is some kind of blockage that prevents sound being detected at the inner ear. In most cases, there is something wrong in the ear canal, eardrum, or the middle ear bones. This can include wax blockages, ear infections or middle ear fluid. In many cases, conductive hearing loss is reversable, either by treatment with medications, surgery, or just time.

2. Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss means there is a problem with the cells or nerves that detect the sound and/or send the sound signal to the brain. Most commonly, this is damage to the hair cells in the inner ear (or cochlear) caused by aging or exposure to loud noise. In other cases, sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by infections, medications, genetics or issues with pregnancy and birth. Sensorineural hearing loss often occurs in only a portion of the cells in the inner ear, meaning that hearing loss occurs at only some frequencies (or pitches) of sound. Therefore, sensorineural hearing loss is not a simple case of the volume of sound being turned down, but issues with clarity and distortion. Many people with sensorineural hearing loss also notice sensitivity to loud sound (or hyperacusis). In most cases, sensorineural hearing loss is not reversible but can be helped and managed with hearing aids.

3. Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder

Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder (ANSD) is a type of sensorineural hearing loss where the auditory nerve does not transmit the sound effectively from the inner ear to the brain. This is a relatively rare condition. The causes are unknown but risk factors include low birth weight, infections during pregnancy and premature birth. ANSD is usually diagnosed in the first months of life. As the name suggests, ANSD cases exist on a spectrum- the severity of symptoms can vary significantly. Many children with ANSD can develop strong language and communication skills, but early intervention and therapy is crucial.

4. Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing loss is when a patient has a combination of both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. Often the causes of the two types of hearing loss are separate, but sometimes one condition can cause both conductive and sensorineural hearing losses.

5. Central Hearing Loss

Central hearing loss refers to issues with hearing resulting from problems in the parts of the brain that process and understand sounds. Central hearing loss is rare.

6. Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is a term to describe issues with the brain’s ability to process and understand sounds. This can include difficulties understanding speech in background noise, with two competing sources of speech, auditory memory impairments and more. APD usually refers to cases where these issues occur in the absence of a true hearing loss. APD is usually diagnosed in children, partly because of the importance of hearing well in noisy classrooms.

7. Tinnitus

Tinnitus is a condition where a person hears noises such as ringing, buzzing, crickets or whirring that are not present in the environment. Tinnitus is often a sign of damage to the hearing system, whether by aging, noise, medications or certain infections. In some more rare cases, tinnitus can be a sign of a medical issue that needs attention. Tinnitus does not cause hearing loss, but the two often occur at the same time. Tinnitus is an extremely common condition and does not always require treatment or management. However, for some people, tinnitus can affect concentration, sleep and mental health. For these people, audiologists can offer strategies and management to reduce the perceived loudness and the effect on a person’s life.

8. Hyperacusis

Hyperacusis is sensitivity to certain sounds that may not be bothersome for other people. Patients with hyperacusis feel pain or discomfort when they hear loud noises such as bells or telephones. Hyperacusis is often a sign of sensorineural hearing loss.

If you currently are experiencing any of the conditions in the list above, it is recommended you visit your audiologist for screening and recommendations.  In most cases, early professional advice and treatment is most effective. It is never too early to seek help from an audiologist.

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