Hearing Loss

Hearing is a complicated process. If something goes wrong during any stage of the process, it could lead to hearing loss. Hearing begins with your outer ear picking up a sound wave from the outside world. This sound wave is funneled through the ear canal and hits the eardrum, creating a vibration. The vibration is passed through the three bones in the middle ear: the malleus, incus, and stapes (known as the hammer, anvil and stirrup). The last bone in the series, the stapes, knocks against the oval window, passing the vibration into the inner ear. Within the inner ear is the cochlea, which is lined with thousands of tiny hairs. The sound wave vibration causes the hairs to move; this creates an electrical signal. This signal is passed through the auditory nerve to the brain, where it is interpreted as sound.

There are three types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural and mixed. It is important for your audiologist to determine your specific type of hearing loss in order to figure out your treatment options.

Conductive hearing loss occurs when a sound wave is unable to pass through the outer or middle ear. This can be caused by fluid buildup in the middle ear, a perforated eardrum or impacted earwax. This type of hearing loss can usually be reversed through medical or surgical means.

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is a problem with the inner ear or with the auditory nerve that connects the ear to the brain. This can be caused by exposure to a loud noise, aging or head trauma. This type of hearing loss is permanent. Fortunately, most can benefit from the use of a hearing aid.

Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. This means that you have a problem with the outer or middle ear and a problem with the inner ear. To address this type of hearing loss your audiologist will treat the cause of the conductive hearing loss first and then move on to the sensorineural.