Categories of Hearing Impairments: Introduction to the Main Types

Hearing loss can take a variety of forms and arise from many different causes, and to understand them you need to understand the way we hear. We receive sounds via the outer ear, which is not only the portion of the ear on the outside of our heads, but also the ear canal and the eardrum. In the middle ear three tiny bones called ossicles transfer sounds to the inner ear by transforming them into vibrations.The inner ear consists of a snail-shaped organ called the cochlea, two semicircular canals which help us keep our balance, and a set of acoustic nerves which connect to the brain. All these parts are extremely sophisticated and delicate, and a problem in any section can result in hearing loss. Four different classifications constitute what we mean when we refer to “hearing loss.”

The first class is conductive hearing loss, which is due to an obstruction that prevents sounds from being properly transmitted through the outer or middle ear. This type of hearing loss can frequently be solved with medication or a surgical procedure; if surgery isn’t an option, conductive hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids.

The second classification is sensorineural hearing loss, which is caused by damage in the inner ear – to the cochlea, to the hair cells lining the inner ear, or to the acoustic nerves themselves. Sensorineural hearing loss can usually not be treated using medication or surgery, but its effects can be minimized using hearing aids to allow the person to hear more normally.

The third classification is mixed hearing loss, which is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, and which can often be treated using the same combinations of surgery, medication, and hearing aids.

Damage to the inner ear or auditory nerves preventing a message from being understood by our brain that entered the ear normally, is called central hearing loss.

Each of these four main classifications contain several sub-categories, such as the degree of hearing loss, which can be mid-level, moderate, severe, or profound. Additional sub-categories include whether the hearing loss occurs in one ear or both ears (unilateral vs. bilateral), whether it occurs at the same degree in both ears (symmetrical vs. asymmetrical), and whether the hearing loss happened before or after the person learned to speak (pre-lingual vs post-lingual). Additional sub-categories of hearing loss includes whether it is progressive vs. sudden, whether the hearing loss is fluctuating vs. stable, and whether the hearing loss was present at birth (congenital) or developed later in life (acquired). Whatever the cause of your hearing loss, our specialists will help you diagnose the cause and help you treat it properly and effectively.

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