Hearing is a complex process. Sound waves in the environment enter the outer ear and travel down the ear canal. The sound waves bump against the middle ear or eardrum. This vibrates the three tiny bones in the middle ear, called the ossicles. As the ossicles move, they cause ripples in the fluid-filled middle ear.
Small hair cells in the inner ear can sense this movement. They translate the movement into electrical signals, then send the signals up the auditory nerve to the brain. Finally, your brain processes these electrical signals so that you experience sound.
The most common kind of hearing loss is sensorineural hearing loss. This is a permanent loss that means there is damage to the hair cells in the inner ear. Common causes of SNHL are caused by exposure to very loud sounds and/or age-related changes to the inner ear hair cells. When the cells in the inner ear are damaged, they can no longer send signals to the brain. This hearing loss affects high-pitched sounds and makes it hard to decipher important speech sounds especially in the presence of noise.
Conductive hearing loss is often characterized by a sudden loss of hearing. Sounds may seem muffled or like they’re coming from far away. This hearing loss is caused by problems in the middle ear or outer ear. An injury can block the ear canal or infection can fill the eardrum with fluid. Even a buildup of earwax in the ear canal can cause conductive hearing loss.
The third type of hearing loss is mixed hearing loss. This hearing loss is a combination of conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. For example, you might have sensorineural hearing loss due to the natural aging process, but you also have an ear infection or a build-up of ear wax that is blocking your ear and causing conductive hearing loss.
Hearing loss can occur naturally or as a result of trauma. It is not uncommon to experience hearing loss as we age, and most individuals start experiencing some kind of hearing loss after the age of 60. Apart from this, head trauma, exposure to loud music/noise, or due to genetics you can also experience permanent hearing loss at any age.
When you start experiencing and recognizing the signs of hearing loss, it is better to be proactive, and get treated before the problem causes a bigger impact. Consult an audiologist and get an accurate assessment of your hearing, and discuss what kind of rehabilitation is the best option for you.