Hearing loss doesn’t only happen late in life. While it is true that more than 1 in 3 Americans over the age of 65 have some hearing loss1 it can occur at any age and for a number of reasons. Specialists diagnose hearing loss using the following categories:
Conductive hearing loss results from disorders in the outer or middle ear. Sounds can’t reach the inner ear, so they sound faint and/or distorted. Common causes for conductive hearing loss may include wax build-up, infection, fluid in the middle ear, foreign objects in the ear canal, or a perforated eardrum. Medical procedures can usually treat conductive loss successfully and provide complete or partial hearing restoration.
Sensorineural hearing loss happens when damage occurs to the tiny, hair-like cells of the inner ear that send signals to the brain, or if there is damage to the auditory nerve itself. With this type of loss, sounds do not seem clear. Because the tiny, hair-like cells within the cochlea naturally diminish over time, this is the most common type of hearing loss associated with aging (more on this below). However, sensorineural hearing loss may also result from injury, exposure to loud noises, certain medications and a variety of diseases. Regardless of the cause, sensorineural hearing loss can often be successfully treated with hearing aids.
In addition, specialists further categorize this type of hearing loss by how rapidly it occurs:
- Sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or sudden deafness, is a rapid loss of hearing. It can happen almost instantaneously, or over a period of a few days. It should be considered a medical emergency. If you or someone you know experiences this kind of hearing loss, visit a doctor immediately.
- Presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, happens gradually as a person ages. It may run in families and may be caused by changes in the inner ear and auditory nerve. Presbycusis may make it hard for a person to tolerate loud sounds or to hear what others are saying. Age-related hearing loss usually occurs in both ears, and affects them equally. The loss is gradual, so people with presbycusis may not realize that they have lost some of their ability to hear.
- Unrecognized and untreated hearing problems can get worse and lead to complications, like cognitive challenges in aging patients2. That’s why, if you or a loved one experience any kind of hearing loss, we can provide testing, evaluation, and the proper treatment for your kind of loss.
1. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) website, https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/age-related-hearing-loss
2. Frank R. Lin, MD, PhD; Kristine Yaffe, MD; Jin Xia, MS; et al. Hearing loss and cognitive decline in older adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(4):293-299. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.1868