Hearing loss doesn’t only happen late in life. While it is true that more than 1 in 3 Americans over the age of 65 have some hearing loss1 it can occur at any age and for a number of reasons. Specialists diagnose hearing loss using the following categories:
Conductive hearing loss results from disorders in the outer or middle ear. Sounds can’t reach the inner ear, so they sound faint and/or distorted. Common causes for conductive hearing loss may include wax build-up, infection, fluid in the middle ear, foreign objects in the ear canal, or a perforated eardrum. Medical procedures can usually treat conductive loss successfully and provide complete or partial hearing restoration.
Sensorineural hearing loss happens when damage occurs to the tiny, hair-like cells of the inner ear that send signals to the brain, or if there is damage to the auditory nerve itself. With this type of loss, sounds do not seem clear. Because the tiny, hair-like cells within the cochlea naturally diminish over time, this is the most common type of hearing loss associated with aging (more on this below). However, sensorineural hearing loss may also result from injury, exposure to loud noises, certain medications and a variety of diseases. Regardless of the cause, sensorineural hearing loss can often be successfully treated with hearing aids.
In addition, specialists further categorize this type of hearing loss by how rapidly it occurs:
1. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) website, https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/age-related-hearing-loss
2. Frank R. Lin, MD, PhD; Kristine Yaffe, MD; Jin Xia, MS; et al. Hearing loss and cognitive decline in older adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(4):293-299. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.1868