March 2022. – Is Hearing Loss Common? What Types of Hearing Loss Are There?

Is Hearing Loss Common? What Types of Hearing Loss Are There?

Hearing loss is more common than you may think. And there are different types of hearing loss that impact people in different ways. Before reviewing the different types of hearing loss, let’s quickly look at how common hearing loss really is. 

How Common is Hearing Loss?

In 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report indicating that in less than 30 years, nearly 2.5 billion people globally will face hearing loss. The report further noted that at least 700 million will likely require ear and hearing care, as well as other auditory rehabilitation services. In America alone, the statistics around hearing loss are astounding as well. 

Quick Facts About Hearing in the United States
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (a section of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reviewed various studies, publications and articles to compile 15 facts about hearing
[SB1] , and below are a few worth noting from the March 2021 update.

·       Approximately 37.5 million American adults aged 18 and over report some trouble hearing 

·       Men are almost twice as likely as women to have hearing loss among adults aged 20-69

·       Speech-frequency hearing loss in both ears is common in about 18 percent of adults aged 20-69, who report 5 or more years of exposure to very loud noise at work. This is nearly 13 percent more than the 5.5 percent of adults with speech-frequency hearing loss in both ears who report no occupational noise exposure.

·       About 28.8 million American adults could benefit from using hearing aid technology

·       Roughly 25 million Americans has experienced tinnitus lasting at least five minutes in the past year


The Different Types of Hearing Loss

The type of hearing loss someone can have depends on what part of your hearing system is damaged. While traditionally three basic types of hearing loss exist – conductive, sensorineural and mixed – some audiologists today also add in central hearing loss and functional hearing loss. For the same of this blog, let’s review all five. 


Conductive Hearing Loss

When sound can’t get through your outer ear or middle ear, soft sounds may be hard to hear, and louder sounds will feel muffled. Conductive hearing loss is often caused by a physical or organic issue (see potential causes below) and can often be fixed with help from an audiologist, medicine or surgery.


Some of the causes of conductive hearing loss include: 

·       Earwax build-up, or cerumen, stuck in the ear canal

·       A hole in your eardrum

·       Fluid in the middle ear (usually happens when you have a cold or if you suffer from allergies)

·       Eustachian tube function issues

·       Ear infection


(See more causes of conductive hearing loss here.)[SB2] 


Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss results after damage to the inner ear (cochlea) or hearing nerve is damaged or doesn’t work as it should. People with sensorineural hearing loss often report that sounds are muffled, unclear and hard to hear overall. 


Sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by any of the following things:

·       Genetics (hereditary hearing loss)

·       Aging

·       Physical trauma to the head or ears

·       Problem in the way the inner ear is formed from birth

·       Illness

·       Drugs that are toxic to hearing (ototoxic medications[SB3] )

·       Exposure to loud noise or listening to loud sounds (i.e., explosions, construction equipment, gunshots, music)


This type of hearing loss is permanent, and unfortunately, surgery and medicine are not always possible fixes. Hearing aids have been shown to help. 


Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing loss stems from a problem in your outer or middle ear as well as in your inner ear or nerve pathway to the brain. A mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss, and the causes of mixed hearing loss are the same as for conductive or sensorineural. Mixed hearing loss


Central Hearing Loss

Less commonly known, central hearing loss is when an issue in the central nervous system (CNS) prevents auditory signals sent by the ear from being processed by the brain. In this case, your ears function normally and can “hear” just fine. But despite functional ears, the brain cannot decipher or decode the sound signals into identifiable things or words. Think of it as a gap between the bridge between your ears and brain – the sounds can’t get through unscathed. So, when you’re taking in competing sounds, like street traffic and voices, it can be extremely difficult to decipher what is what. 


Functional Hearing Loss

Functional hearing loss is unique in that it’s not consistent and has no true physiological explanation. Any hearing loss that can’t be explained by an organic cause is classified as functional hearing loss. In some cases, functional hearing loss may be a result of an emotional or psychological condition. For example, functional hearing loss may be a temporary consequence of severe trauma.