Ear Health

Types of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is relatively common. Approximately 17% of people in Ireland suffer from hearing impairment while an estimated 100 babies are born each year with significant hearing loss.

There are a number of factors that can lead to hearing loss. As we age, our hearing can diminish and many older people suffer from some type of hearing loss. Other factors include genetics, recurrent infections, disease and trauma, some medication and continued exposure to loud noise.

There are two main types of hearing loss:

  • Conductive
  • Sensorineural

Sometimes people can suffer from a third type of hearing loss when both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss occur simultaneously. This is called mixed hearing loss.

Conductive hearing loss

When sound waves travel from the outer to inner ear they are typically converted to movements by your eardrum and the small bones in the middle ear. With conductive hearing loss, sound fails to reach your inner ear. This might be due to a blockage such as ear wax in the ear canal, an accumulation of fluid or damage to the eardrum as a result of an infection. In most cases the causes of conductive hearing loss can be treated and hearing improved.

Sensorineural hearing loss

This type of hearing loss occurs due to an issue in the inner ear or with the auditory nerve that carries messages to the part of the brain that interprets sound. The most common cause of sensorineural hearing loss is ageing however it can also occur as a result of some viruses, injury, certain medications, prolonged exposure to loud music or noise, genetics and in very rare cases, a growth that is located on the hearing nerve in the brain. While in some instances this type of hearing loss can be reversed, it is more often permanent and requires the assistance of a hearing device to help amplify sound that is carried to the inner ear.

Speak to your audiologist to learn more about the type of hearing loss that affects you and what you can do about it.

Outer Ear Health

Your outer ear consists of the ear canal which leads to the ear drum. It is where sound first enters the ear on its journey to the middle and inner ear where it is processed and interpreted in the brain.

The outer ear is often exposed to moisture, bacteria, fungi and other irritations and is therefore susceptible to a condition known as Otitis Externa (or more commonly Swimmer’s Ear). Symptoms of Otitis Externa include inflammation in the ear canal, pain, itchiness, and sometimes temporary hearing loss.

In many cases Otitis Externa will resolve on its own but your GP can prescribe ear drops to help speed up your recovery. If your symptoms persist your GP may refer you to an ear specialist who can assess your condition and advise on the appropriate treatment.

It is important that you never insert foreign objects such as cotton buds, toothpicks or even your fingers into your ear canal as they can transfer bacteria, damage your outer ear and potentially lead to an infection. If you swim regularly you might consider wearing ear plugs and a swimming cap to protect your outer ear from the water and help prevent Otitis Externa.

Middle ear disorders include

  • Otitis Media
  • Tinnitus
  • Earwax blockage
  • Otosclerosis
  • Balance disorders including Ménière’s disease

Inner ear disorders include

  • Acoustic neuroma
  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo
  • Drug-induced ototoxicity
  • Herpes zoster oticus
  • Purulent labyrinthitis
  • Vestibular neuronitis