What is Mixed Hearing Loss? - Attune
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What is Mixed Hearing Loss?

hearing loss affect

Are you concerned for yourself or a loved one that hearing loss has crept its way into your lives? Untreated hearing loss can impact many aspects of life, including communication, speech, cognition and loneliness. 

While the degree of hearing loss can range from mild to profound, nearly 2.5 billion people worldwide are expected to have some degree of hearing loss by 2050. With one in six Australians already suffering from hearing loss, this is only expected to rise, making it more important than ever to be aware of the symptoms and preventative measures you can take. 

Our ears are delicate and sensitive organs that we need to care for accordingly. They are also imperative to our health and wellbeing, as they function to detect the tiny changes in air pressure caused by sound to send the information to the brain for processing. 

Ears consist of three main parts: the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. With each area being vital to the ear’s functionality, any damage has the potential to contribute to hearing loss. As a result, several types of hearing loss can affect your hearing health differently.

Types of Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss

Being diagnosed in 90% of adult hearing loss cases, sensorineural hearing loss is the most common.

Unfortunately, it is a permanent type of hearing loss that occurs when there is a problem in the inner ear or auditory nerve, preventing its ability to deliver sound to the brain. When exposed to loud noises, ototoxicity, tumours, and even ageing, the tiny hair-like cells of the inner ear can become damaged. As a result, the blocked nerve signals cannot carry information about sounds. 

While over one billion young adults are at risk of permanent hearing loss due to unsafe listening practices, there are always ways to minimise the risks. 

Conductive hearing loss

Unlike sensorineural, conductive hearing loss can be temporary or permanent depending on the cause. It refers to damage occurring to the outer or middle ear, which prevents sound vibrations from reaching the inner ear, which is generally caused by an obstruction or trauma. 

Fluids, allergies, foreign objects, ear wax, or ruptured eardrums can all contribute to this type of hearing loss and create a feeling of a plugged sensation within the ears. While this hearing loss type is generally less permanent, it is still just as important to proactively try and prevent it.

Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed Hearing Loss

As the name suggests, mixed hearing loss is a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. Essentially, it is when damage occurs to the outer or middle ear’s ability to conduct sound waves and the inner ear or auditory nerves ability to process this sound data. 

A diagnosis of one type of hearing can be daunting enough, so understandably the combination of both may seem rather overwhelming. However, with proper awareness and understanding of the causes and symptoms, you can ideally prevent and treat any issues before permanent damage occurs. 

Causes

As mixed hearing loss combines the effects of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss, it can happen when the ear sustains some sort of trauma or gradually over time when one hearing loss is compounded by the other. 

Conductive hearing loss is typically caused by external obstructions, that if aren’t addressed swiftly, can cause issues long term. As a result, if a person doesn’t treat this obstruction and also happens to suffer age-related hearing loss as they get older, the effects of hearing loss will combine and exacerbate. 

Alternatively, if you already have age-related hearing loss, it could turn into a  temporary mixed hearing loss if you are additionally suffering from wax impaction. 

It is important to note that these factors can arise at different periods throughout life. While individuals are most susceptible to damage during critical periods in life, it is always important to look after your hearing health.

Factors that may damage multiple areas of your ear and can lead to mixed hearing loss include:

  • Ageing
  • Loud noises
  • Genetic factors 
  • Occupational and recreational noises 
  • Ear wax
  • Ear infections
  • Some medications and illnesses

Symptoms

Symptoms

Understanding the causes of mixed hearing loss is the first step to minimising the risks. In addition, it is also vital to be aware of the symptoms so you can take treatment measures as soon as they arise. 

As mixed hearing loss is the combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss, it is understandable that the symptoms are also a combination. These include:

  • More difficulty hearing out of one ear,
  • Pain or sensation of pressure in one or both ears,
  • People’s speech seems slurred or mumbled,
  • The feeling that you can hear but not understand,
  • Difficulty following a conversation when two or more people are speaking simultaneously,
  • Ringing or buzzing in your ears (generally known as tinnitus),
  • Withdrawal from conversations,
  • Feeling off-balance or dizzy, and;
  • Certain speech sounds are difficult to hear during conversations.

Ultimately, you know yourself best, and if there are any drastic changes in your hearing, it is certainly recommended you seek professional advice in the form of a hearing test. However, sometimes a hearing loss can occur so gradually and slowly that it can go unnoticed for years. This increases the importance of attending regular checkups rather than waiting for symptoms to arise. 

Treatments

Prevention:

Without sounding like a scratched record, prevention is always essential. While not all cases of hearing loss can be prevented, regularly enforcing preventive measures can significantly reduce the risks.

Preventative measures are essential throughout all ages of life, from prenatal to older age. 

The most common cause of hearing loss within adults is exposure to loud sounds and ototoxic medicines. Fortunately, these are preventable by:

  • Protecting your ears,
  • Keeping your ears regularly checked (hearing test, audiogram, etc.) and;
  • Minimising recreational risks. 

Management:

However, as much as prevention is detrimental, hearing loss can still occur. In this case, it can be comforting to be aware of the management and treatment options available. Early identification of hearing loss is key to effective management and reducing the risk that it becomes permanent. 

Treatment options are not black and white. Instead, it depends on whether the hearing loss is predominantly sensorineural or conductive. 

  • If the hearing loss is mainly caused by conductive damage, surgical procedures and medical treatments might be more effective and the best first step to take.
  • However, if the hearing loss is predominantly sensorineural, hearing aids, hearing implants, or cochlear implant surgery may be the best option.

Despite what type of hearing loss is most prevalent, audiologists generally recommend taking care of the conductive component first. This is because it has more chance of being completely treated and can improve the quality of hearing improvement hearing aids can provide. 

hearing aids

In Summary

Receiving a hearing loss diagnosis can be highly stressful and frustrating and an unfortunate truth to have to face. However, doing the unpleasant work of learning about hearing loss types can better equip you to deal with loss if it does occur. 

Mixed hearing loss can be a tricky type of hearing loss to cope with, so it is important to seek personal and professional help throughout the process. 

If you have a family member suffering from mixed hearing loss, visit our hearing newsroom for more advice on the best way to support them. The team of professionals at Attune are not only experts in hearing but are passionate about helping you take control of your hearing today. For more advice or information, book an appointment and come chat with us.

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