An Overview of the Terminology of Hearing Loss Classifications

In the same way that there are many causes of hearing loss, there are several forms of hearing loss; understanding the way that we hear is the beginning of understanding the different types. We pick up sounds through the outer ear, which is not merely the portion of the ear on the outside of our heads, but also the ear canal and the eardrum. The middle ear includes the eardrum as well, but also is comprised of the ossicles (three tiny bones that convert sound vibrations into information and convey them to the inner ear). Finally, the inner ear comprises the cochlea (a tiny, snail-shaped organ), two canals with a semicircular shape that are critical to our sense of balance, and the acoustic nerves, which transmit the signals to our brains. All areas of the ear are complex and delicate. Problems in any of the 3 sections – outer, middle or inner ear – can cause hearing loss. Four different classifications make up what we mean when we refer to “hearing loss.”

Something interfering with the transmission of sound through the outer or middle ear is called conductive hearing loss. This form of hearing loss can often be remedied by medication or surgery; if surgery is not a possibility, it can be addressed with 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.

Mixed hearing loss involves both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss, and can occasionally (but not always) be treated with a combination of surgery, medication, and/or hearing aids.

Central hearing loss occurs when sound enters the ear normally, but because of damage either to the inner ear (especially to the cochlea) or to the auditory nerves, it cannot be organized in a way that the brain can understand.

All hearing loss classifications include sub-categories for the degree of hearing loss and are classified as mid-level, moderate, severe, or profound. Hearing loss can also be classified as either unilateral or bilateral (occurring in only one ear or both ears), as pre-lingual or post-lingual (occurring either before or after learning to speak), and symmetrical or asymmetrical (occurring to the same or different degree in both ears). Hearing loss can also be categorized as having occurred slowly or gradually (progressive vs. sudden), whether the degree of loss changes and gets better at times or stays the same (fluctuating vs. stable), and whether the loss was present at birth or developed later in life (congenital vs. acquired). If you suffer from any of these forms of hearing loss, our specialists can help to diagnose it and then to treat it most effectively.

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