Understanding your hearing loss.

The ear is an intricate system with many parts that need to work together to hear well. Understanding the reason for your hearing loss is vital when you are looking into treatment options. With emerging technology and research, there is exciting potential for future treatments.

Different types of hearing loss 

In general, the ear is described as having three sections; the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. All parts of the hearing system need to be working in order to hear well. 

A loss of hearing happens when something in the hearing system stops the sound information from reaching the brain.1 There are different terms to describe the hearing loss depending on which part of the hearing system is affected.

Conductive hearing loss refers to conditions of the outer and middle ear. The inner ear is working, but the sound vibrations cannot reach it effectively.

Sensorineural hearing loss refers to a condition of the inner ear or nerves. Even though sound vibrations are being passed to the inner ear, the hair cells are missing, damaged or cannot transmit the information to the brain.

Mixed hearing loss has both conductive and sensorineural factors.


Can conductive hearing loss can be treated? 

Conductive hearing loss may have a simple cause, such as an earwax blockage. In these cases, the hearing problem goes away when the blockage is removed.

Glue ear is a common cause of conductive hearing loss in children. It often clears on its own but may need treatment if it continues to cause problems over a number of months.

Hearing aids are an effective option for people with conductive hearing loss. As well as conventional hearing aids, there are implanted devices that are designed for people with conductive hearing loss. 

For certain types of conductive hearing loss, surgery may be possible to repair the sound pathway from the outer ear to the inner ear and improve hearing.2,6 However, many ear operations are to treat and prevent ear diseases and do not improve hearing.


Can sensorineural hearing loss can be treated? 

Sensorineural hearing loss is managed with hearing aids and other methods for improving communication. Most people with sensorineural hearing loss benefit from conventional hearing aids, but some come up against significant challenges.xi For these people, a range of different options are available, including implanted devices. If you need treatment for an ear condition, or may be suitable for an implanted device, your doctor or hearing care provider should refer you to a specialist.

sudden hearing loss

What to do if you experience sudden hearing loss?

Sudden hearing loss (losing your hearing within a few days in one or both ears) should be treated as a medical emergency. Within the first few days, medication may help, depending on the cause of the hearing loss. Some sudden hearing loss is permanent, but seeking medical help quickly can improve the chance of recovery.

Looking to the future 

Researchers are looking for ways to grow new hair cells in the inner ear. Recent studies have shown that it is possible for new hair cells to grow, but only following a complex process of treatment. We do not yet have enough information to know how much this would improve hearing, or how long it would last. Further studies are needed to work out how to carry out treatment to the inner ear without damaging other parts of the ear.