Hearing problems can take many different forms and arise from a number of causes, and to understand them you need to understand the way we hear. We pick up sounds through the outer ear, which is not merely the part of the ear on the outside of our heads, but also the ear canal and the eardrum. The eardrum can also be regarded part of the middle ear, an area which also includes the three small bones called ossicles that take the vibrations of sound and transmit them to the inner ear. The inner ear has three key components – the cochlea, the two semi-circular canals (important for balance) and the acoustic nerves which transmit the sound signals to the brain. All of this is extremely complicated and sensitive, and a problem in any area may result in hearing loss. There are four primary classifications of hearing loss.
Conductive hearing loss is caused by something hindering the transmission of sound in the outer or middle ear. Conductive hearing loss is often treatable using medication or with surgery, and if neither of the two succeeds, it is treatable using hearing aids.
Sensorineural hearing loss generally refers to damage to the hair cells of the inner ear, to the cochlea, or sometimes to the acoustic nerves. This damage can in most cases not be effectively remedied by medication or surgery, but can be minimized through the use of hearing aids.
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). Other sub-categories of hearing loss include progressive or sudden (occurring gradually or all at once), fluctuating or stable (getting better at times, or staying the same), and congenital or acquired (present at birth or developing later in life). The most important thing to bear in mind, however, is that whatever type of hearing loss you may have incurred, our specialists can help you to diagnose and treat it properly.