Hearing loss has a lot of different causes and manifestations. It can be sudden or gradual. It can occur in one ear or both ears. It can be temporary or permanent. It happens to people of all ages and is associated with the aging process. Before discussing causes and treatments for hearing loss, it is important to understand how hearing works.
There are three sections of the ear: the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. Each section helps move sound through the process of hearing. When a sound occurs, the outer ear feeds it through the ear canal to the eardrum. The noise causes the eardrum to vibrate. This, in turn, causes three little bones inside the middle ear (malleus, incus, stapes) to move. That movement travels into the inner ear (cochlea), where it makes tiny little hairs move in a fluid. These hairs convert the movement to auditory signals, which are then transmitted to the brain to register the sound.
Hearing loss occurs when sound is blocked in any of the three areas of the ear. The most common cause of hearing loss — and one of the most preventable — is exposure to loud noises. Infections, both of the ear or elsewhere in the body, are also a major contributor to hearing loss.
In the Outer Ear: Earwax build-up, infections that cause swelling, a growth in the ear canal, injury or birth defects can restrict hearing in the outer ear.
In the Middle Ear: Fluid build-up is responsible for the most common infections and blockages in the middle ear. Fluid in the middle ear prevents the bones from processing sounds properly. Tumors, both benign and malignant, can also result in hearing loss in the middle ear.
In the Inner Ear: The natural process of aging diminishes hearing from damage to the cochlea (mechanism for converting sound vibrations to brain signals), vestibular labyrinth (which regulates balance), or the acoustic nerve (nerve that sends sound signals to the brain). Additionally, inner ear infections, Meniere’s disease and other nerve-related problems contribute to hearing loss in the inner ear.
Most causes of outer ear hearing loss can be remedied. But problems of the middle and inner ear can lead to permanent hearing loss, which is why it is important to seek medical attention quickly if you are experiencing a problem hearing.
There are five types of hearing loss:
Hearing loss is measured in four degrees: mild, moderate, severe or profound. The degree of hearing loss drives the selection of the best form of treatment on a case-by-case basis.
The location, type and degree of hearing loss impact the choice of treatments for any hearing problem. The most common treatment options include:
If you experience sudden or prolonged hearing loss with dizziness, fever or pain, please contact our office right away and schedule an appointment with one of our otolaryngologists. We'll conduct a physical examination as well as a hearing test to determine the type and severity of your hearing loss. We'll then recommend the best treatment.
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