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Hearing loss: it helps to spot the correct type
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Hearing loss: it helps to spot the correct type

The two broad types of hearing loss, conductive and sensorineural, both affect an individual's ability to perceive sound. However they differ significantly in their causes, symptoms and treatment approaches
differences between conductive and sensorineural hearing loss
Representational image | Canva

Hearing loss is a prevalent sensory impairment that can be broadly categorised into two main types: conductive hearing loss (CHL) and sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL).

According to Dr H K Susheen Dutt, senior consultant – ENT specialist, Fortis Hospital, Bengaluru, both conditions affect an individual’s ability to perceive sound, but they differ significantly in their causes, symptoms, and treatment approaches.

Dr Dutt lists five major differences between conductive and sensorineural hearing loss –called CHL SNHL in short.

Location of impairment

CHL: The primary cause of conductive hearing loss lies in the outer or middle ear. It often involves issues with the ear canal, eardrum, or the small bones called ossicles in the middle ear, hindering the transmission of sound waves to the inner ear. Ossicles area set of three small bones located in the middle ear.

SNHL: Sensorineural hearing loss, on the other hand, results from damage to the inner ear (cochlea) or the auditory nerve pathways. This type of impairment affects the transmission of electrical signals from the inner ear to the brain, disrupting the perception of sound.

Causes and risk factors

CHL: Common causes of conductive hearing loss include ear infections, earwax blockage, fluid in the middle ear, or abnormalities in the ear canal or eardrum. Trauma or damage to the ossicles can also contribute to it.

SNHL: Sensorineural hearing loss is often associated with ageing, exposure to loud noises, genetic factors and certain medical conditions like Meniere’s disease (This is a condition involving the inner ear that affects balance and hearing).

Symptoms

CHL: Individuals with conductive hearing loss may experience reduced sound intensity and muffled or distorted hearing. They may also perceive a sensation of fullness in the ear. They might find it challenging to hear faint sounds or whispers.

SNHL: Sensorineural hearing loss is characterised by difficulty in hearing faint sounds, speech clarity issues, and increased sensitivity to loud noises. Tinnitus, a ringing or buzzing in the ears, is also a common symptom of sensorineural hearing loss.

Treatment options

CHL: Treatment for conductive hearing loss often involves addressing the underlying cause. This may include removing earwax, treating infections or surgical interventions to repair damaged structures in the ear. Hearing aids can also help in many cases.

SNHL: Sensorineural hearing loss is typically permanent, and treatment options are limited. Hearing aids may help individuals with mild to moderate SNHL, while severe cases may benefit from cochlear implants. Recommendations may include engaging in rehabilitation and auditory training to enhance communication skills.

Prognosis

CHL: In many cases, conductive hearing loss is reversible with appropriate medical intervention. Once the underlying cause is addressed, hearing function can often be restored to normal levels.

SNHL: Sensorineural hearing loss is generally permanent, and the goal of treatment is to manage symptoms and improve functional hearing. Early diagnosis and intervention are crucial in preventing further deterioration.

The takeaway

Both conditions affect an individual’s ability to hear, while there are significant differences in their causes, symptoms and treatment options. “Seeking timely medical attention and [getting] appropriate interventions can greatly improve the quality of life for individuals experiencing either type of hearing loss,” Dr Dutt says.

Thus, it is important to note the differences between the two. Identifying the correct type of hearing loss sets the stage for its accurate diagnosis and management.

For more stories related to ear, nose & throat you can visit our ENT category page.

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