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Non–Age Related Hearing Loss: Types, Causes, and Treatments

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Hearing loss is where sound signals entering through the ears fail to reach the brain and thus cannot be processed. This is often viewed as something that only happens when we get old. While it is true that age is the most common reason for hearing loss, it is not the only cause. There are two main types of hearing loss, each of which can be the result of many factors that damage the intricate workings of the inner ear. If you are younger but think you may be experiencing hearing loss, then consider these types of hearing loss that you may want to talk to a medical professional about. 

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

The inner ear consists of the cochlea and the auditory nerve. The cochlea contains many tiny, sensitive "hairs" that convert sound into electrical impulses that can be passed along the auditory nerve to the brain. Sensorineural hearing loss results from damage to either these "hairs" or the auditory nerve, and this damage prevents sounds from being effectively transmitted to the brain.

Causes of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

While sensorineural hearing loss is often due to age, there are other causes. Repeated exposure to loud noises, for example, from listening to music at a high volume, can damage the sensitive hairs in the cochlea. The damage to the inner ear and auditory nerve can also result from infections, such as meningitis, mumps, and measles. Trauma to the head can also lead to such damage.

Treating Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Unfortunately, this type of hearing loss is often permanent, and thus it is likely that hearing aids will be be required. A hearing aid is an electronic device that amplifies the sounds entering the ear, thus helping the wearer to hear them more clearly. Modern hearing aids are very small and can often be worn inside the ear to make them discreet.  

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs when sounds are unable to pass from the outer to the inner ear, usually due to a blockage. Sounds are unable to reach the cochlea in the inner ear and so cannot be converted to electrical impulses and transmitted to the brain.

Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss

A blockage in the ear can be caused by factors such as a buildup of ear wax, "glue ear" (a build-up of fluid), or an infection. Conductive hearing loss may also be due to a perforated ear drum, otosclerosis, in which abnormal growth of the ear bones prevents them from being able to vibrate and transmit sound effectively, or a foreign body in the ear canal. 

Treating Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss is usually a treatable and reversible condition. It can often be treated with medicine or simple surgery, depending on the exact cause of the hearing loss. For example, blockage due to ear-wax buildup can be removed using ear drops, while antibiotics can be prescribed for infections, and a perforated ear drum can be repaired through a simple surgical procedure.