Hearing Loss: Types, Causes, Treatment

Hearing loss is common

Hearing loss can happen to anyone. Today, more than 48 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss. Learn more about the types of hearing loss, causes, treatment options and how you can prevent it.

Types of hearing loss

There are three types of hearing loss, and treatment will often depend on the type of hearing loss you have. Types of hearing loss include:

Sensorineural hearing loss

The most common type of hearing loss is known as sensorineural hearing loss. It's a permanent hearing loss that occurs when there is damage to either the tiny cells of the inner ear or the auditory nerve itself. In older adults, the cause is usually exposure to loud noise over time.

Conductive hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is an obstruction or damage to the outer or middle ear. This prevents sound fom being conducted to the inner ear. It may be permanent or temporary, depending on the exact cause.

Mixed hearing loss

Mixed hearing loss is exactly what the name suggests: a combination of both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. It commonly occurs when there has been damage over time in addition to some sort of trauma to the ear.
Hearing loss simulation
Hearing Loss Simulation

What does hearing loss sound like? Watch to experience firsthand the effects of hearing loss over time.

Degrees of hearing loss

Let’s discuss the different degrees of hearing loss and the sound levels you can hear at each.

Normal hearing

The lowest audible range is -10 to 15 dB. If you have normal hearing, you should not have much difficulty distinguishing noises in loud environments.

Mild hearing loss

The lowest audible range for someone with mild hearing loss is 26 to 40 dB. Signs that you may experiencing this include difficulty following conversations and speakers in noisy environments and decreased sensitivity to high-frequency sounds.

Moderate hearing loss

The lowest audible range for moderate hearing loss is 41 to 55 dB. Signs that you may be experiencing this include difficulty following conversations without a hearing aid and sounds starting to blend together.

Severe hearing loss

The lowest audible range for severe hearing loss is 71 to 90 dB. Signs you may be experiencing this include having trouble hearing conversations in quiet environments and being unable to hear everyday sounds that you once did, like the birds outside or the turn signal in your car.
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Hearing loss causes

Hearing loss can happen over time or it might be sudden. Some of the most common causes of hearing loss include:

  • Aging
  • Exposure to loud noise over time
  • Buildup of ear wax
  • Abnormal tumors or growths
  • Ototoxic medications

More on hearing loss causes
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Signs of hearing loss

Since hearing loss often happens gradually, the symptoms can by subtle or even missed:

  • Difficulty hearing on the phone
  • Asking people to repeat themselves
  • Feeling like people are mumbling
  • Turning up the TV so that it's too loud for others
  • Difficulty hearing women and children

More on hearing loss symptoms

Hearing loss treatment

Effective treatment for hearing loss depends on both the type of hearing loss as well as the cause. Sometimes it can be as simple as removing excess ear wax. In other cases, however, surgery may be necessary.

This is usually the case when there are abnormalities of the ear drum or bones of the ear or you've had repeated infections. Luckily, most cases of sensorineural hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids.

Hearing loss prevention

Our hearing is precious and connects us to the people and things we love. It's important to protect our hearing so we can enjoy all it does for us. Our three top tips for hearing loss prevention are:

  1. Avoid harmful noise
  2. Proactive healthy lifestyle choices
  3. Get your hearing checked regularly

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