What is hearing loss?

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Hearing loss means you have lost the ability to hear certain sounds. Maybe you can no longer hear high-pitched tones, like the voices of women or children. Or maybe you can’t pick out a signal voice if there is a lot of conversation in the background.

Sometimes hearing loss is temporary, like a ranging in your ears after a noisy concert. Most often, it is permanent because the mechanisms that help you hear have been damaged.

Symptoms of hearing loss

Hearing loss can be sudden, after being exposed to a loud bang, a side effect of certain types of medications or through injury. More often, its onset is slow.
One of the most common symptoms of hearing loss is the inability to hear high-pitched tones, such as female voices, or the high-pitched tones in speech, like the letters F, H, S, and TH. Words like “feather” and “frost” are suddenly very hard to hear.
The sounds of nature may also seem to have disappeared. If you can no longer hear birds sing or the sound of raindrops on the roof, this could be another sign of hearing loss.

Levels of hearing loss

Hearing loss can be divided into four categories depending on the level of hearing loss*: mild, moderate, severe and profound. Watch the video to understand these four levels better.
Mild hearing loss  :
You will have trouble hearing and understanding soft speech, speech from a distance or speech against a background of noise.
Moderate hearing loss :
You will have difficulty hearing regular speech, even at close distances.
Severe hearing loss :
You may only hear very loud speech or loud sounds in the environment, such as a fire truck siren or a door slamming. Most conversational speech is not heard.

Profound hearing loss :

You may only perceive loud sounds as vibrations.

Severe-to-profound hearing loss:

When you have a severe-to-profound hearing loss, you are only able to hear very loud speech or loud sounds. People with severe hearing loss cannot hear speech at a conversational level and for people with profound hearing loss, loud sounds are mainly only perceived as vibrations. The degree of hearing loss often varies for sounds of different pitches, with the best hearing in the low pitches. 

Types of hearing loss

There are many different types of hearing loss, and only a professional will be able to identify what type of hearing loss you or a loved one may have.

Conductive hearing loss

What is conductive hearing loss?

Conductive hearing loss is caused by problems in the outer ear or middle ear. It can be as simple as a wax blockage in the outer ear that can be quickly treated by a hearing care professional. Conductive hearing loss can also refer to more severe conditions that may be permanent and can require amplification with technology.
Conductive hearing loss is one of the most common types of hearing loss and it takes place in the outer or middle ear.  It often results from a blockage to the ear that makes it harder for sound to reach the brain. Some possible causes are: 
  • Swimmers ear.
  • Excess wax in the outer ear.
  • Sudden holes in the eardrum from a loud noise.
The good news is, conductive hearing loss is usually medically treatable and sometimes entirely curable. 
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What is sensor neural hearing loss?

Sensor neural hearing loss is caused by problems in the inner ear or auditory nerve – the nerve that carries sound from the inner ear to the brain. 

Often sensor neural hearing loss is gradual, and people with this type of hearing loss may not notice they are experiencing it until it starts to affect speech recognition and communication, typically in noisy restaurants or other social situations. 
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Sensor neural hearing loss

Causes of sensorineural hearing loss

The most common cause of sensorineural hearing loss is aging. As we get older, the small hairs in our inner ear become damaged, and are less able to transmit sound.
Causes include:
  • Aging; after age 65, one out of three people has hearing loss
  • Disease, such as mumps, meningitis or multiple sclerosis
  • Excessive noise, often from work or listening to loud music
  • Head trauma
  • Birth condition, often if the mother experienced rubella (German measles) when pregnant

What is mixed hearing loss?

Mixed hearing loss has elements of both conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. This means there is damage to both the outer and inner ear. The outer ear cannot conduct sound properly to the inner ear, and the inner ear can’t process the sound to be sent to the brain. The sensorineural component (inner ear) is usually permanent, but the conductive hearing loss (outer ear) may not be. Many people with mixed hearing loss experience sounds as very soft in volume and difficult to understand. 
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Mised hearing loss

Causes of mixed hearing loss

The most typical causes of mixed hearing loss are the same as for conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, and include:
  • Genetic factors
  • Aging; after age 65, one out of three people has hearing loss
  • Excessive noise, often from work or listening to loud music
  • Certain medications
  • Birth conditions
  • Tumors and diseases
  • Head trauma
  • Earwax
  • Ear infections