What is the Difference Between Sensorineural and Conductive Hearing Loss?
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We all have friends of family that suffer from hearing loss; most cases result from the simple process of aging. Our ears just aren’t what they used to. It is extraordinarily important that all hearing loss be properly diagnosed as there are many different causes of hearing loss. And without the proper diagnosis, the proper treatment can not be applied. Have you heard the terms sensorineural and conductive hearing loss? These terms appear often in articles about hearing loss and in literature accompanying medication, but most of us are not sure what they mean. Or even if they refer to the same thing. This article looks into both of these types of hearing loss, how they are different, how they occur, and how they are usually treated.
Let’s begin with sensorineural hearing loss
Sensorineural hearing loss is the result of damage to one of three things: your inner ear, your brain, or the nerve that travels from the ear to the brain. The sound wave enters the ear as normal, but cannot be transmitted to the brain properly.
And conductive hearing loss?
Conductive hearing loss refers to when sound is not conducted properly from the outer ear to the ear drum and the small bones of the inner ear. In this case, the sound does not travel into the ear on the typical way.
How are these hearing problems caused?
Ok, lets begin with sensorineural hearing loss?
We have tiny hairs in our middle ear. Important tiny hairs that change sounds into electric signals that are sent to our brains. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when these tiny hair cells are damaged somehow. Or when the nerve fibers in the middle ear are damaged. Occasionally, this type of hearing loss happens when the actual nerve that carries the signal to the brain is damaged.
So we know what doesn’t work. But how is the damage usually caused?
There are actually many different ways for these tiny hair cells, nerve fibers or nerve can be damaged:
- diseases of the immune system
- exposure to extraordinarily loud noises
- consistent exposure to loud noises over time
- infections due to measles or mumps
Now let’s turn to conductive hearing loss
There are different factors here than are involved with sensorineural hearing loss.
Here are the common ones:
- colds can result in fluid building up in the middle ear
- the ear drum can develop tiny holes
- non-cancerous tumors
- ear canal infections
- an object in the ear
- the eustachian tube may not function properly
- the outer ear or middle ear may be misshapen
It is clear that the conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss are the result of different problems that have different causes at their root. But there are common treatments for these very different kinds of hearing problems. Most hearing loss, whether conductive or sensorineural, can be helped by the use of a hearing aid. Let’s have a brief look at how hearing aids work.
Though hearing aids can be used to help people who suffer from either sensorineural or conductive hearing loss, the extent of the damage to the ear may result in hearing aids being ineffective. It is estimated that between 10 and 15 % of all hearing loss can be best treated with surgery.
Not all hearing aids are created equal. There are different hearing aids that work in different ways, depending on what is needed. Sometimes hearing aids have a molding that directs sounds into the inner ear from the outer ear, creating a better chance for them to be heard. (This is useful in cases of conductive hearing loss.) Or special hearing aids may have the ability to be amplify sound far beyond the scope of the typical hearing aid. But all hearing aids have the following parts:
- a microphone for sound
- a battery
- a power switch
- a receiver to bring sound into the ear
- an amplifier that makes sounds louder
Hearing aids sometimes need a little bit of help. They may work well in regular situations but not when used for talking on the phone, or listening to one person speak when lots of people are around. There are hearing assist devices available that can boost a hearing aids power for use in tricky situations. It is important that patients keep their doctors informed when a hearing aid is not having the positive effective they expected; often the situation can be remedied.
A cochlear implant
A sensorineural hearing problem does have a treatment option that is not effective for helping those with conductive hearing loss. A cochlear implant. This surgically implanted device is
usually used when hearing aids are of little use. It basically bypasses the tiny hairs in our middle ear and lets the sound travel past them to our brains. This treatment is generally reserved for those who have suffered an extreme loss of hearing.
Mixed hearing loss
It should be noted that it is possible to suffer from sensorineural and conductive hearing loss at the same time. This is called a mixed hearing loss and is treated accordingly.
Having difficulty hearing can seriously impair our ability to live full and happy lives. But modern treatment and support systems mean that a specific system of treatment and therapy. An be worked out for each individual patient, based on the source of the hearing problem, lifestyle and financial means.
At one time hearing loss was thought of as a devastating ailment. Doctors and societies that help those suffering from hearing loss emphasize one factor above all others. And it is this. Hearing loss can be dealt with sophisticated hearing aids, hearing aid enhancers, medications or sometimes surgery. The idea is that hearing loss should not be ignored but pro-actively treated. If you or someone in your family is experiencing hearing loss, deal with it directly and without delay. You or they may well be watching your favorite television show at a volume that does not drive your family and friends into other rooms. And that will feel good, won’t it?