An Introduction to Hearing Impairment Classification Terms and Vocabulary

Understanding the way we hear is the first step in understanding the numerous reasons for hearing problems and the different forms of hearing loss. Along with the eardrum and the ear canal, the outer ear is the section of the ear on the exterior of the head which receives sounds. The middle ear includes the eardrum as well, but also is comprised of the ossicles (three tiny bones that transform the vibrations of sound into information and convey them to the inner ear). Lastly, the inner ear contains the cochlea (a tiny, snail-shaped organ), two canals with a semicircular shape which are important to our sense of balance, and the acoustic nerves, which transmit the sound to our brains. All areas of the ear are complex and delicate. Problems in any of the 3 sections – outer, middle or inner ear – could cause hearing problems. Four different classifications make up what is collectively called “hearing loss.”

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss is due to something interfering with the transmission of sound through the outer or middle ear. Conductive hearing loss is frequently treatable using medication or with a surgical procedure, and if neither is effective, it is treatable using hearing aids.

Damage to the inner ear, including the cochlea, hair cells lining the inner ear, or the acoustic nerves is called sensorineural hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss can usually not be treated using medication or surgery, but its effects can be minimized using hearing aids to allow the person to hear more normally.

The third classification is mixed hearing loss, which is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, and which can often be treated using the same combinations of surgery, medication, and hearing aids.

Central Hearing Loss

Central hearing loss occurs when sound enters the ear normally, but because of damage either to the inner ear (especially to the cochlea) or to the auditory nerves, it cannot be organized in a way that the brain can understand.

All hearing loss classifications include sub-categories for the degree of hearing loss and are classified as mid-level, moderate, severe, or profound. Hearing loss is typically classified with additional sub-categories including whether the hearing loss occurs in one or both ears (unilateral vs. bilateral), whether the degree of hearing loss is the same in both ears (symmetrical vs. asymmetrical), or whether the hearing loss occurred before or after learning to speak (pre-lingual or post-lingual). Additional sub-categories of hearing loss includes whether it is progressive vs. sudden, whether the hearing loss is fluctuating vs. stable, and whether the hearing loss was present at birth (congenital) or developed later in life (acquired). Whatever the cause of your hearing loss, our specialists will help you diagnose the cause and help you treat it properly and effectively.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

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