Hearing loss, also known as hearing impairment or deafness, is the inability to detect or a decreased sensitivity to sounds. Unfortunately, hearing loss is extremely common and becomes even more prevalent as we age. Presbycusis is a term that specifically refers to the loss of hearing as we age. It is estimated that 1 in 3 of adults in the US ages 65 to 75 have some degree of hearing loss. For those above the age of 75, almost 1 in 2 people have hearing impairment.
When describing hearing loss, it is useful to consider the type of hearing loss, degree of hearing loss, and configuration of hearing loss (2). In children, it is important to diagnose hearing loss as soon as possible as it may have drastic consequences on learning and development. However, hearing loss also can have negative ramifications for adults considering it can impact employment, education, and general wellbeing.
Types of hearing loss include the following:
- Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound is not transmitted through the outer ear canal to the eardrum, and to the small bones of the middle ear termed ossicles. Symptoms usually include an inability to hear faint sounds or a reduction in overall sound. This can usually be medically or surgically corrected.
- Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear, known as the cochlea or the auditory nerve itself. This is the most common type of permanent hearing loss and is usually refractory to medical or surgical intervention. Symptoms usually include an inability to hear faint or even all sounds.
- Mixed hearing loss occurs when there is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.