How are Hearing Problems Classified?

Just as there are many reasons for hearing loss, there are many distinct types of hearing loss; understanding the way that we hear is the beginning of understanding the distinct types. Including the ear canal and the eardrum, the outer ear is the portion of the ear on the outside of the head which receives sounds. In the middle ear three tiny bones called ossicles transmit sounds to the inner ear by converting sounds into vibrations.The inner ear consists of a snail-shaped organ known as the cochlea, two semicircular canals which help us keep our balance, and a set of acoustic nerves which lead to the brain. All of this is extremely complicated and delicate, and a problem in any area may result in hearing loss. Hearing loss is usually split into 4 primary classifications.

The first class is conductive hearing loss, which is caused by a blockage which prevents sounds from being properly transmitted through the outer or middle ear. Conductive hearing loss is often treatable using medication or with a surgical procedure, and if neither of the two is effective, it is managed with hearing aids.

Damage to the inner ear, including the cochlea, hair cells lining the inner ear, or the acoustic nerves is called sensorineural hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss can usually not be treated using medication or surgery, but its effects can be minimized using hearing aids to allow the person to hear more normally.

The third classification is mixed hearing loss, which is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, and which can often be treated using the same combinations of surgery, medication, and 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.

Spanning each of these four main classifications are sub-categories of degree, meaning that the hearing loss may be mid-level, moderate, severe, or profound. Hearing loss is typically classified with additional sub-categories including whether the hearing loss occurs in one or both ears (unilateral vs. bilateral), whether the degree of hearing loss is the same in both ears (symmetrical vs. asymmetrical), or whether the hearing loss occurred before or after learning to speak (pre-lingual or post-lingual). Additional sub-categories of hearing loss includes whether it is progressive vs. sudden, whether the hearing loss is fluctuating vs. stable, and whether the hearing loss was present at birth (congenital) or developed later in life (acquired). Whatever the cause of your hearing loss, our specialists will help you diagnose the cause and help you treat it properly and effectively.