About Hearing Loss

Hearing is a valuable gift that helps us to learn, enjoy the sounds of a baby’s laughter, and engages us in social activities, including conversations with friends and family members. Hearing is one of the human body’s most remarkable senses. It is a delicate and complex system of synchronous parts. If any part of this delicate system breaks down, the result could be hearing loss.

Types of Hearing Loss

A hearing test is similar to listening to different notes on a piano. During the test, you listen to different frequencies ranging from low to high pitch, as your audiologist tests the specific frequencies necessary for speech understanding. During the hearing test, your Audiologist measures the softest sound you can hear at each frequency, called your hearing threshold. You may listen to tones via air conduction (using insert earphones similar to foam earplugs placed in your ear canals) and bone conduction (a different type of headphone that determines if your hearing loss is originating from your outer/middle ear or from your inner ear). You may also repeat lists of words and/or listen to sentences in varying background noise. The audiogram is the report that provides visual representation of your hearing loss. The volume, or intensity, of sounds you hear is measured in decibels (dB), 0 dB being the softest whisper and 120 dB being a jet engine. Normal hearing thresholds for adults range between 0 to 20 dB.

Hearing loss exists when your hearing thresholds fall outside of the 0-20 dB range of normal hearing. The audiogram plots your hearing loss by varying degrees of loss, not percentages. The degrees of hearing loss vary from mild, moderate, moderately-severe, severe or profound, and the shape, or configuration, of hearing loss varies from person to person.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is a problem with the conduction of sound through the outer and/or middle ear while traveling to the inner ear (cochlea). The problem may lie in the outer ear (pinna or ear canal), eardrum (tympanic membrane), or the middle ear (ossicles and Eustachian tube). The inner ear remains unaffected in this type of hearing loss.

Some causes of conductive hearing loss can include outer or middle ear infections, complete earwax blockage, deterioration of the middle ear bones (ossicles), fixation of the ossicles (otosclerosis), a hole in the tympanic membrane, or absence of the outer ear or middle ear structures.

Depending on the source of the problem, conductive hearing losses may be temporary or permanent. Medical management can correct some cases of conductive hearing loss, while amplification may be a recommended treatment option in more long-standing or permanent cases.

According to the Better Hearing Institute, conductive hearing loss applies to only 5-10% of adults. It is important to note that an Audiologist’s relationship with an ENT physician is similar to seeing an Optometrist prior to the Ophthalmologist. Audiologists work hand-in-hand with ENT physicians, first diagnosing your hearing loss prior to your visit with the ENT. At Heartland Hearing, you can rest assured that if we discover a conductive hearing loss and/or medical concern, whether during your initial consultation or at some point during your continuing follow up care, we will refer you to the appropriate ENT physician.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural (sen-sory-nuhral) hearing loss occurs when there is a problem with the sensory receptors (hair cells) of the hearing system, specifically in the cochlea of the inner ear. Neural hearing loss occurs when the auditory nerve that carries impulses from the cochlea to the brain is missing or abnormal. The majority of sensorineural hearing loss occurs as a result of damage or an abnormality to the hair cells in the cochlea. This abnormality prevents sound from being transmitted to the brain normally, resulting in a hearing loss.

The hair cells may have been abnormal since birth (congenital), damaged as a result of genetics, infection, drugs, trauma or over-exposure to noise (late-onset or acquired), or damaged as a result of the aging process, a kind of hearing loss known as Presbycusis (pres-be-cue-sis).

Sensorineural hearing losses are permanent and may stay stable or worsen over time. According to the Better Hearing Institute, sensorineural hearing loss applies to 90-95% of adults. Given there is no medical concern with this type of hearing loss, the patient will work together with the audiologist to proceed with selection and fitting of hearing aids. With sensorineural hearing loss, amplification with hearing aids is the only treatment option available (or cochlear implants in the most severe cases).

At Heartland Hearing, we provide you peace of mind. Not only did we train with the top-ranked Audiology program in the country, The University of Iowa, decisions by
our Audiologists regarding your hearing aid technology, hearing healthcare and treatment plan are about you, and made in your best interest.

Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing loss occurs when a person has an existing sensorineural hearing loss in combination with a conductive hearing loss. It is, very literally, a mix of sensorineural and conductive hearing losses. This means there is a problem in the inner ear as well as in the outer or middle ear. The conductive hearing loss may be temporary or permanent, depending on the source of the problem.

Mixed hearing loss can sometimes be treated with medical management, and hearing aids are a common treatment recommendation. At Heartland Hearing Center, you can rest assured that if we discover a mixed hearing loss and/or medical concern, whether during your initial consultation or at some point during your continuing follow up care, we will refer you to the appropriate ENT physician.