Hearing Loss – What is it?


Hearing loss can come in many different forms, and affect people in many different ways; it’s an affliction that has an effect on approximately 3.6 Australians – that’s around 14.5% of the population.

Hearing impairment can affect a person in a number of different ways, such as:

  • Less educational and job opportunities
  • Social withdrawal due to reduced access to services
  • Difficulty communicating with others
  • Emotional problems due to a drop in self-esteem and/or confidence

What is Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss, or hearing impairment, is defined as partial or total inability to hear in one or both ears. It can range from mild to profound, and can be different for every person.

When dealing with hearing loss, understanding the degree of loss is important to identify the right treatment – people with moderate loss may need external hearing aids, but someone with more profound loss might have to receive an implant.

How to Tell if You Have Hearing Loss?

You might be finding yourself missing words or noises now and then, and are unsure if its just a bad day, or something a little more serious. You may have a hearing impairment if you find yourself consistently noticing the following:

  • Children’s and women’s voices are hard to understand
  • Higher-pitched sounds are commonly missed when dealing with high-frequency hearing loss.
  • Other high pitch sounds include bird’s chirping, or devices beeping.
  • You ask others to repeat themselves
  • Background noise makes it difficult to hear other voices, making you inclined to withdraw from social setting in the future
  • If you are turning the volume up on your electronics
  • If the TV or radio is getting hard to hear, it might be a sign you’re experiencing hearing loss.
  • You feel as though your ears are always clogged
  • An uncomfortable feeling in your ears might be a sign that there is a blockage from wax or fluid – if you’re having pain or unusual sensations, it’s always a good idea to have it checked out.

Kinds of Hearing Loss

There are four main types of hearing loss:

  • Conductive Hearing Loss
  • Sensorineural Hearing Loss
  • Auditory Processing Disorder
  • Mixed Hearing Loss

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss is caused by obstructions within the outer or middle ear, and can be caused by multiple malfunctions, such as:

  • Outer or middle ear infections
  • Damaged ear drums
  • Impacted earwax
  • Fluid build-up
  • Abnormal bone growth in the middle ear

Conductive hearing loss can be permanent or temporary, and is most commonly experienced by children, and indigenous populations.

Conductive Hearing Loss can be treated with surgery and certain types of hearing technologies, such as Middle Ear Implants, and Bone Conduction Hearing Devices.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

When a person’s hearing organ, the Cochlea, and/or the auditory nerve is damaged, or malfunctions, they may be diagnosed with Sensorineural Hearing Loss; this means that the brain is unable to accurately receive the electrical information regarding hearing. Sensorineural Hearing Loss is almost always permanent, and can be caused by aging, disease, accidents, exposure to loud noises or music, certain kinds of chemicals, and medications – or it can be genetic. There are certain subsets of Sensorineural Hearing Loss, including Noise-Induced Hearing Loss, and Auditory Neuropathy.

Technologies like Cochlear Implants and Hearing aids can help to reduce the effects of Sensorineural Hearing Loss.

Auditory Processing Disorder

If a person’s brain is having problems processing the information contained within sounds, like speech and location of the sound, they may have an Auditory Processing Disorder (APD). APD’s are more common in children, and APD is an umbrella term that covers many subsets of the disorder, such as:

  • Spatial processing disorders
  • Auditory Hypersensitivity
  • Auditory Integration
  • Prosodic
  • Organisational Deficit

For more information on each type of these Auditory Processing Disorders, we’ve provided a link to a few websites that can help shed some more in-depth light on the disorders.

Usually, APD is treated with therapies, and it can be managed for a full and healthy quality of life

Mixed Hearing Loss

When a person is diagnosed with Mixed Hearing Loss, it means they suffer from both Conductive and Sensorineural Hearing Loss. This can occur when someone with a permanent Sensorineural Condition (like Presbycusis) gets a middle ear infection. The Sensorineural component is always permanent, whilst the conductive aspect can be either permanent or temporary.

Treatment Options

Depending on the type of hearing loss, there are a few treatment options. For Conductive Loss, sometimes medications can help to clear infections and blockages, but sometimes surgery and certain types of devices based on bone conduction technologies are needed. If the hearing loss is Sensorineural, devices like cochlear implants, hybrid cochlear implants, and hearing aids may be necessary. In other instances, such as with Auditory Processing Disorders, therapies are helpful, especially for those who are diagnosed during childhood. If you believe that you or a loved one may be suffering from hearing loss in any way, the best way to check is to have a chat with your regular GP, who can refer you to the appropriate audiological services.

More Information