By: Mary Ann Allen, Au.D., CCC-A, of HearingLife Greensboro


     Do you feel like you are not hearing as well as you once did? Or have you noticed that a child or a parent seems to have lost some hearing? All hearing loss is not the same. There are four main types, which have different characteristics and different treatment options.

Conductive hearing loss

If sounds seem muffled, making it more difficult to hear, you may have conductive hearing loss. This type of hearing loss, which can be temporary or permanent, develops when sound can’t pass through the outer and middle ear to reach the inner ear.

Something typically is blocking the path of the sound waves – such as fluid, ear wax, or even a raisin or pebble if the patient happens to be a child. Other conditions that can lead to conductive hearing loss include congenital abnormalities, a benign tumor or a punctured eardrum.

Conductive hearing loss often can be cured with medicine or surgery. By eliminating the ear infection (or the pebble) or removing the benign tumor, for example, doctors can often restore the person’s hearing. In cases where that is not possible, a hearing aid or a bone-anchored hearing aid may help.

Sensori-neural hearing loss

Have you noticed a gradual decline in your hearing? Maybe you are having greater difficulty understanding what people are saying when there is background noise? You may have sensori-neural hearing loss, the most common type. It develops when there are problems with the auditory nerve or when tiny hair cells in the inner ear are damaged, interfering with their ability to help transmit sound waves to the brain. This damage may occur due to aging, or it may be caused by other factors, including loud noise, medications, genetics or infections.

Sensori-neural hearing loss is permanent, but properly fit and programmed hearing aids – or, in severe cases, cochlear implants – usually can help the person hear better.

Mixed hearing loss

Some people have a combination of conductive and sensorineural loss. For example, an elderly person with age-related sensori-neural loss may experience a conductive hearing loss due to a middle ear infection that has caused fluid to build up. People with mixed loss often can get medical help to eliminate the conductive loss, as noted above, but the sensori-neural loss  is permanent and requires use of some form of technology – hearing aids or a cochlear implant – to improve their hearing.

Auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder

Perhaps you know someone who seems to hear sounds, but has great difficulty understanding speech? The problem might be auditory neuropathy. In this less well-known type of hearing loss, the sounds leaving the inner ear are disorganized. They are garbled when they reach the brain or are not received at all by the brain. Those with this condition have difficulty processing speech.

This type of hearing loss, which is found in all ages, sometimes is linked to genetics. In children, the cause also can be related to experiences during and after birth, such as a lack of oxygen.

Researchers still are studying this type of hearing loss and opinions vary on whether hearing aids, cochlear implants and other technology can help patients with this syndrome.

Get your hearing checked!

If you or a loved one are experiencing hearing loss, give our office a call at 336-272-1721 to schedule an appointment so we can determine the type of loss and the best options for treatment.

Mary Ann Allen, Au.D., CCC-A, is an audiologist at HearingLife Greensboro. She is a doctor of audiology who also has earned national certification from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. A practicing audiologist since 1998, Mary Ann has extensive experience in evaluating hearing loss and fitting patients with hearing aids and other technology to help them maximize their ability to hear.