Hearing loss can occur at any age, but is more common among older adults. Approximately one out of every 3 people in the US between the ages of 65 and 74 suffers from hearing loss, making it one of the most common conditions affecting the older population.
Age-related hearing loss is typically a result of changes in the inner ear as we age, but not all hearing loss is associated with an inner ear problem. The external and the middle ear conduct sound. When there is a problem in the external or middle ear, the result is known as a conductive hearing impairment. When the problem is in the portion of the inner ear called the cochlea, this type of hearing loss is commonly a sensory or sensorineural hearing loss. Difficulty in both the middle and inner ear results in a mixed hearing impairment (conductive and sensorineural impairment).
Sensorineural hearing loss
Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss. More than 90 percent of all hearing aid wearers have sensorineural hearing loss. The most common causes of sensorineural hearing loss are genetics, age-related changes, and noise exposure. Sensorineural hearing loss may also result from other problems related to damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve.
There are many excellent options for patients with sensorineural hearing loss. People with sensorineural hearing loss typically report they can hear people speaking, but they can’t always understand what they’re saying or they complain that "everyone mumbles." They usually hear better in quiet places than in noisy environments.
Conductive hearing loss
Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound is not conducted efficiently through the ear canal, eardrum, or tiny bones of the middle ear, resulting in a reduction of the loudness of perceived sound. Conductive losses may result from earwax blocking the ear canal, fluid in the middle ear, middle ear infection, obstructions in the ear canal, perforations (hole) in the eardrum membrane, or stiffening of any of the three middle ear bones. People with conductive hearing loss may notice their ears seem to be full or plugged. They may speak softly because they may hear their own voice loudly. Conductive hearing losses should be evaluated by an audiologist and a physician. In some cases, amplification is still warranted.
Mixed hearing loss
Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. In these cases, some medical treatment or a procedure may correct the middle ear problems, while a hearing aid may still be required.
To determine the type and degree of hearing loss, start with comprehensive diagnostic hearing evaluation performed by a doctoral-level audiologist. Results of this evaluation can tell you whether you indeed have a hearing loss. If so, the audiologist can develop personal recommendations specific for you and help guide the steps for best treatment.