Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SHL)
This most common type of hearing loss tends to result from damage to delicate hair cells in the cochlea (an organ located in the inner ear); those cells are responsible for picking up sounds. Overexposure to loud noises can damage or destroy these cells—or the nerves they connect to—making hearing more difficult. High-frequency sound is usually the first casualty of loud-noise exposure, which can lead to permanent high-frequency hearing loss.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Infection or blockage of the outer or middle ear tends to be the culprit in this type of hearing loss. Middle-ear infections (otitis media) can cause sound-blocking fluid build-ups. A blockage outside the eardrum can be caused by swimmer’s ear or a buildup of earwax. Conductive Hearing Loss is typically treatable, subsiding once the infection or blockage clears, or as the result of needed surgery.
Mixed Hearing Loss
This condition tends to involve some combination of sensorineural hearing loss (SHL) and semi-permanent conductive hearing loss, perhaps an ossicle malfunction in the middle ear (ossicles are tiny bones that conduct sound). Once the conductive hearing loss has been handled through treatment or surgery, hearing should improve; the SHL, however, tends to be permanent.
“Overexposure to loud noises can damage or destroy these cells—or the nerves they connect to—making hearing more difficult. High-frequency sound is usually the first casualty of loud-noise exposure, which can lead to permanent high-frequency hearing loss.”
Unilateral Hearing Loss
This term refers to hearing loss in only one ear. A person can be born with it, it can come on spontaneously and even over the course of several days. In early life, it can interfere with speech and language development; children may also have trouble understanding where sounds are coming from, hearing speech in noisy situations, and hearing at longer distances. A focus on communication development can help kids born with unilateral hearing loss achieve academic, economic and social success.
Sudden Hearing Loss
Just as the name suggests, this is a sudden loss in hearing, either total or partial, either immediately or over a 24-hour period. Sudden hearing loss tends to self-resolve within two weeks, but the possibility of permanent hearing loss exists. Steroids may be used to support hearing recovery, but when there is no positive change within two weeks, improvement is unlikely. Immediate treatment greatly increases the chances of a full recovery, and about 85 percent of people who seek treatment will get some of their hearing back; so, if sudden hearing loss occurs, consult your physician right away.
High-Frequency Hearing Loss
In cases of high-frequency hearing loss, vowels tend to come through clearly, where consonants like f, s, t, and z are hard to understand. Since it develops slowly over the course of decades, diagnosing high-frequency hearing loss tends to be difficult. Early signs of it include trouble hearing higher-octave sounds, like chirping birds, or the voices of women and small children. It can also be indicated by difficulty conversing in groups or hearing speech amid background noise. Hearing aids are an effective treatment for high-frequency hearing loss, but wearing hearing protection when you’re exposed to loud noises can go a long way toward preventing it in the first place.