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Living with Hearing Loss

Marcia B. Dugan

Written in collaboration with Self Help for Hard of Hearing People

Chapter Six: Types of Hearing Loss

Once you are aware that you have a hearing loss, you will want to learn more about it. There are two major types of hearing loss—conductive and sensorineural. Although sensorineural hearing loss is the most prevalent type of loss, especially in older people, you should seek a proper diagnosis from an appropriate hearing health care provider.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss is caused by a blockage, usually in the middle ear, that prevents sound from being conducted to the inner ear. The blockage can be caused by wax buildup, an ear infection, fusion of the bones in the middle ear, a punctured eardrum, or tumors. Sounds seem soft but speech is clear as long as it is loud enough. Hearing aids can be very beneficial to people with a conductive loss. This type of hearing loss often responds to medical or surgical treatment, but only if the auditory nerve and inner ear are functioning well.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss results from damage to the inner ear. The most common cause of sensorineural hearing loss is aging, although high fevers, ototoxic drugs, and noise are other causes. If you have this type of hearing loss, you have trouble hearing in crowded rooms and while watching television, as well as difficulty understanding conversation. Also called nerve deafness, this type of hearing loss usually is not caused by damage to the auditory nerve but to the hair cells in the inner ear. The hair cells respond, or are in “tuned,” to specific sounds. Somw may be so severely damaged that they cannot react when sound from the outside strikes them. At the same time, the hair cells for certain speech sounds may be functioning normally. This causes you to miss parts of words and sentences. Sensorineural is rarely correctable medically or surgically; however, in the great majority of cases, properly fitted hearing aids and assistive devices can help you hear better.

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