About Hearing Loss

Our physicians and audiologists are uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat hearing loss, dizziness and balance disorders. We offer the most advanced diagnostic testing and treatment options available.

Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is one of the most prevalent chronic conditions in the United States, with more than 19 million Americans age 45 and over having hearing loss. The National Council on the Aging (NCOA) released a groundbreaking study in 1999 that showed the significant impact that untreated hearing loss had on an individual’s emotional and social well-being. Individuals with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression, anxiety, irritability, anger and were less likely to participate in organized social activities. Those using hearing instruments reported benefits in many areas of their lives, ranging from their relationships at home to a sense of independence and physical well-being. Family members also noticed these improvements. Other studies have shown that symptoms of untreated hearing loss mimic the outward behavioral characteristics of early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. An individual with even a moderate hearing loss has a total functional impact similar to those exhibited by people with a major medical condition.

Common Signs of Hearing Loss

  • You may hear but not understand people
  • You may have difficulty understanding radio, television or public address systems
  • You need to watch a person’s lips in order to understand
  • You find yourself asking people to repeat what they have said
  • You may pretend to understand
  • You may avoid people and isolate yourself
  • You may find it emotionally and physically exhausting to communicate
  • It appears that you are the only one who has these difficulties

Hearing loss can be categorized by where or what part of the auditory system is damaged. There are three basic types of hearing loss

  • Conductive hearing loss
  • Sensorineural hearing loss and
  • Mixed hearing loss

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound is not conducted efficiently through the outer ear canal to the eardrum and the tiny bones, or ossicles, of the middle ear. Conductive hearing loss usually involves a reduction in sound level, or the ability to hear faint sounds. This type of hearing loss can often be medically or surgically corrected.

Examples of conditions that may cause a conductive hearing loss include:

  • Conditions associated with middle ear pathology such as fluid in the middle ear from colds, allergies (serous otitis media), poor eustachian tube function, ear infection (otitis media), perforated eardrum, benign tumors
  • Impacted earwax (cerumen)
  • Infection in the ear canal (external otitis)
  • Presence of a foreign body
  • Absence or malformation of the outer ear, ear canal or middle ear

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear (cochlea) or to the nerve pathways from the inner ear (retrocochlear) to the brain. Sensorineural hearing loss cannot be medically or surgically corrected. It is a permanent loss.

Sensorineural hearing loss not only involves a reduction in sound level, or ability to hear faint sounds, but also affects speech understanding, or ability to hear clearly.

Sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by diseases, birth injury, drugs that are toxic to the auditory system, and genetic syndromes. Sensorineural hearing loss may also occur as a result of noise exposure, viruses, head trauma, aging and tumors.

Mixed Hearing Loss

Sometimes a conductive hearing loss occurs in combination with a sensorineural hearing loss. In other words, there may be damage in the outer or middle ear and in the inner ear (cochlea) or auditory nerve. When this occurs, the hearing loss is referred to as a mixed hearing loss.

Configuration of Hearing Loss

The configuration or shape of the hearing loss refers to the extent of hearing loss at each frequency and the overall picture of hearing that is created. For example, a hearing loss that only affects the high frequencies would be described as a high-frequency loss.

Its configuration would show good hearing in the low frequencies and poor hearing in the high frequencies. On the other hand, if only the low frequencies are affected, the configuration would show poorer hearing for low tones and better hearing for high tones. Some hearing loss configurations are flat, indicating the same amount of hearing loss for low and high tones.

Other descriptors associated with hearing loss are:

Bilateral versus unilateral: Bilateral hearing loss means both ears are affected. Unilateral hearing loss means only one ear is affected.

Symmetrical versus asymmetrical: Symmetrical hearing loss means that the degree and configuration of hearing loss are the same in each ear. An asymmetrical hearing loss is one in which the degree and/or configuration of the loss is different for each ear.

Progressive versus sudden hearing loss: Progressive hearing loss is a hearing loss that becomes increasingly worse over time. A sudden hearing loss is one that has an acute or rapid onset and therefore occurs quickly, requiring immediate medical attention to determine its cause and treatment.

Fluctuating versus stable hearing loss: Some hearing losses change—sometimes getting better, sometimes getting worse. Fluctuating hearing loss is typically a symptom of conductive hearing loss caused by ear infection and middle ear fluid, but also presents in other conditions such as Meniere’s disease.