Gradual hearing loss with aging is common, affecting about 25 percent of people in the United States between ages 55 and 64. This number increases to roughly 50 percent in people over the age of 65.
There are a few different types of hearing loss, and they can be caused by a variety of factors. Most cases of hearing loss cannot be reversed, but there are treatment methods to help improve hearing for those who suffer from hearing loss.
Types of Hearing Loss
There are three distinct types of hearing loss:
- Conductive hearing loss: This refers to cases in which hearing loss is caused by problems with the ear canal, eardrum, or middle ear and its little bones (known as the malleus, incus and stapes).
- Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL): Also called nerve-related hearing loss, SNHL involves cases in which hearing loss is due to problems of the inner ear.
- Mixed hearing loss: A combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss could mean there’s damage in the outer or middle ear and in the inner ear or auditory nerve.
Causes of Hearing Loss
The causes of hearing loss vary between individuals and the type of hearing loss they have. Causes of conductive hearing loss include:
- Malformation of the outer ear, ear canal or middle ear structures
- Fluid in the middle ear due to colds
- Ear infection
- Poor function of the Eustachian tube
- Perforated eardrum
- Benign tumors
- Impacted earwax
- Infected ear canal
- Foreign body located in the ear
- Otosclerosis (hereditary disorder featuring a bony growth formation around a small bone in the middle ear, which prevents it from vibrating when stimulated by sound)
Causes of sensorineural hearing loss include:
- Exposure to loud noise
- Head trauma
- Virus or disease
- Autoimmune inner ear disease
- Family history of hearing loss
- Malformation of the inner ear
- Meniere’s Disease
“Causes of hearing loss vary between individuals.”
Treatments for conductive hearing loss may include:
- Surgical correction: This may include a specific procedure, or pressure-equalizing tubes.
- Hearing device: Ranging from a bone conduction hearing aid to an implanted osseointegrated device or a conventional hearing aid, these treatments depend on the status of the hearing nerve.
- Medications: Certain acute infections are treated with antibiotic or antifungal medications.
In cases of sensorineural hearing loss, treatments may depend on what caused the hearing loss:
- Via acoustic trauma: Hearing loss from exposure to excessively loud noises may respond to medical therapy with corticosteroids.
- Via head trauma or abrupt changes in air pressure: Many cases of hearing loss related to trauma have found success with emergency surgery.
- Sudden sensorineural hearing loss: Presumed to be of viral origin, this type of hearing loss is also treated with corticosteroids.
- Bilateral progressive hearing loss: This is a condition that progresses over several months and is treated with corticosteroids and sometimes with drug therapy.
- Fluctuating sensorineural hearing loss: Often symptoms of a condition called Meniere’s Disease, this can be treated with a low-sodium diet, diuretics and corticosteroids. In some cases, if related vertigo is not medically controlled, surgical procedures may be used to treat vertigo.
- Via tumors: Sensorineural hearing loss from tumors of the balance nerve adjacent to the healing nerve can be addressed in some cases using hearing preservation surgery for tumor removal.
- Via disease in the central nervous system: These cases may respond to medical management for the exact disease affecting the nervous system.
- Irreversible sensorineural hearing loss: This is the most common form of hearing loss, and can usually be managed with hearing aids. If these aren’t enough, it can be surgically treated with cochlear implants.
If you or a loved one experience hearing loss, speak to your doctor to identify the causes and develop a treatment plan that works best for you.
Our specialists have received extensive training and completed a variety of procedures, offering the best ENT care for our patients. Our team also has access to a variety of specialties to ensure that patients receive coordinated care.
“Types, Causes and Treatment.” Hearing Loss Association of America. http://www.hearingloss.org/content/types-causes-and-treatment
‘Hearing loss.” The Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hearing-loss/basics/definition/con-20027684