Hearing loss is something that all of us will experience at some point in our lives, whether it is as a child due to ear infections or as an adult through the natural deterioration of hearing due to age (presbycusis) or a noise-induced loss where one ear may be more affected than the other. You may feel that you have better hearing in one ear than the other or can’t tell a difference between them at all. This is all completely normal, however, if you do ever have any concerns about your hearing – if there are sudden changes, you get a full feeling in your ears or sudden loud ringing sound in one or both ears, it is best to speak with your audiologist and GP for advice.
The 2 main types of hearing loss
There are two main types of hearing loss, and they can be in either one or both of your ears – Sensorineural (permanent) and Conductive. Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of loss and is one that normally creeps up on us unnoticed as we age. With this type of hearing loss, those little hair cells in the cochlear have been damaged over time and aren’t able to send the signals as clearly or strongly to your brain. Sometimes this type of hearing loss can also be caused by exposure to very loud sudden noise (acoustic trauma) or prolonged periods of exposure to loud noise e.g. construction sites, loud music concerts, shooting etc.
A conductive hearing loss involves our middle ear. There are a number of things that may cause this type of hearing loss in both adults and children such as an ear infection, glue ear, a blocked eustachian tube, and otosclerosis to name a few. The hearing loss occurs because there is something that is stopping or reducing the movement/vibration of the eardrum and the bones behind it so the sound waves can’t be conducted through the system as well as they usually would be. In a lot of cases, this type of hearing loss can recover with appropriate medical intervention from your GP and/or Ear Nose and Throat specialist (depending on the issue), but it’s always a good idea to have your hearing levels checked properly by an audiologist first to confirm what is actually happening with your hearing.
But what if I have both kinds of hearing loss?
It is possible to have both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss at the same time. In this case, we call it a Mixed hearing loss. With a mixed hearing loss there is usually a permanent element involved to start with however, due to problems with the middle ear, the loss is made worse. A lot of the time with this hearing loss we find that the hearing levels in each ear are different, however, with the proper management and support from your audiologist and ENT specialist or GP, we can keep you hearing as well as possible in your daily life.
Sudden hearing loss and Google says I have a tumour!
You’ve woken up one morning and noticed that suddenly you can’t hear well out of one ear (sometimes both) and you go and consult good old Dr Google for advice and it says you have a tumour. Generally speaking, this will not be the case as the rate of having an acoustic neuroma is around 1 in 100,000 and normally presents with other issues as well. It is more likely to be related to a viral infection, however, in most cases, a cause is not able to be found. Sudden hearing loss is a very serious issue, generally only seen in the adult population and requires urgent medical review to determine the cause. As a general rule of thumb, the sooner you seek medical help in this situation, the better the outcome may be. Each day you delay seeking help reduces your chances of hearing recovering. If your hearing doesn’t come back to what it was before, there are options available that your audiologist can discuss with you to help combat the loss and get your communication and hearing ability up and running again.
At the end of the day, we are all individuals and no one hearing loss is going to be exactly the same. Although children are more likely to present with conductive hearing loss, adults may as well if there is a history of middle ear issues. The same being that a child may present with a sensorineural hearing loss if there are genetic links present. In the majority of adult cases, hearing loss is indeed the same – or at least very similar – in both ears, but can also differ depending on your history. If you have concerns about your hearing or your child’s hearing, you are always welcome to contact your local audiologist at Attune for advice and assessment. Book in for an appointment by heading to the Attune website here.