For those with a taste for live music, you may be familiar with the post-concert ear ringing, or even some temporary hearing loss. Hearing loss, however, can last much longer, or be permanent depending on the onset and type of hearing loss.
Essentially there are two types of hearing loss — sensory type and conductive type. Hearing loss of both types are often genetic.
The most common reason for sensory type is noise-induced hearing loss from chronic loud noise exposure. As we get older, we may experience another type of sensory hearing loss known as presbycusis, which develops with age.
The other type of hearing loss, conductive type, can have several causes, like wax impaction in the ear canal, ear infection, chronic middle ear fluid or an ossicular abnormality. An ossicular abnormality is when the small bones that connect the ear to the hearing organ have formed abnormally, resulting in hearing loss. Typically, an ossicular abnormality presents slowly over time and earlier in life than a sensory type loss.
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Regardless of the underlying cause or type, hearing loss can be diagnosed with a formal audiogram by a professionally trained audiologist, on referral from your otolaryngologist or ear, nose and throat specialist.
Sensory hearing loss cannot generally be treated surgically, but is usually treated with various forms of amplification, most commonly a standard hearing aid.
Treatments for conductive type hearing loss depend on the underlying cause. For wax impaction, treatment can be as simple as removing the wax that has impacted in the ear canal. For those with ear infections, or chronic middle ear fluid, typical treatment involves draining the fluid off the ear. In cases of ossicular abnormality, an ENT will perform a surgical treatment to repair the abnormal ossicle causing the conductive hearing loss.
There's also a third type of hearing loss — congenital. Individuals are born with congenital hearing loss. In roughly one in 1,000 births, a child will have some degree of hearing loss. These cases are diagnosed post-birth by a hearing test that is mandated by the state of Kentucky.
These tests can be imperfect, however, and may miss a case of mild to moderate hearing loss. It's not uncommon that this will present with delay of speech or other speech or language problems. Children with these symptoms should be referred to an audiologist for further testing. Congenital hearing loss can be sensory or conductive, and treatments are similar in children as in adult patients.
Pediatric hearing loss is not uncommon. The most common reasons children have hearing loss is due to Eustachian tube dysfunction, which can cause recurrent ear infections or chronic middle ear fluid. In this case, it can typically be treated successfully with ear tube placement by an ENT physician.