What many people don’t know is that there are several different types of hearing loss. Each type has its own best practices for treatment, but even within these categories each case is highly individualized. Once a diagnosis is reached, patients work with their doctor to find the best treatment plan for that specific case.
If you or your child is new to the world of hearing loss, the information can be overwhelming. Doctors and audiologists are best suited to guide you through the process, but arming yourself with some basic knowledge can help make the whole experience easier.
Common Types of Hearing Loss
Sensorineural Hearing Loss (Inner Ear): This is the most common type of hearing loss and is likely permanent. It occurs when there is damage to the tiny hair cells of the inner ear. Family history of hearing loss, genetic disorders, and anatomical abnormalities are some of the possible causes. Families can work closely with their team of professionals to help determine what the cause of the loss might be, although sometimes the etiology remains unknown.
Conductive Hearing Loss (Middle and Outer Ear): Conductive hearing loss occurs when the outer or middle ear is not functioning properly. Many young children suffer from conductive hearing loss during their toddler years because at this young age, the eustachian tube that lies in the middle ear is more flat than angled as seen in an older child. This makes it difficult for fluid to drain from the middle ear when little ones are sick. Some known causes are fluid, frequent ear infections, and swimmer’s ear. Your pediatrician or ENT can often manage these conditions. However, some children have outer or middle ear differences such as microtia (a very small external ear), atresia (no external, middle ear, or opening to the middle ear), or abnormalities within the tiny bones in the middle ear system. These abnormalities can cause conductive hearing loss to be permanent.
Mixed Hearing Loss: Mixed hearing loss is a combination of both a sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. The middle ear and the inner ear both contribute to the diagnosis.
Less Common Types of Hearing Loss
Auditory Neuropathy: This occurs when sound travels through the inner ear normally, but the transmission of sound to the brain is impaired. Individuals with auditory neuropathy may have fair to poor ability in discriminating speech. This type of hearing loss needs to be monitored closely as the hearing will fluctuate (as the degree of hearing loss varies), and hearing aid programming needs to be adjusted accordingly.
Neural Hearing Loss: This rare type of hearing loss results from malformation or damage to the auditory nerve that connects the cochlea to the brain and is typically profound and permanent. Traditional hearing aids or cochlear implants do not provide benefit, because the auditory nerve cannot transmit information to the brain. An auditory brainstem implant may be recommended.
Treatment Options: Children diagnosed with hearing loss should be evaluated by an audiologist and specific recommendations such as hearing aids, bone conduction hearing aids, and cochlear implants will be recommended depending on the factors of their individual case. Children with conductive hearing loss may have options such as PE tubes if hearing loss is a result of chronic fluid that is medically managed by a physician. Your doctor and audiologist will help guide you through treatment after a successful plan is determined.