When it comes to the area of hearing loss, a diagnosis of mixed hearing loss is one of the more confusing for patients. It is a condition where a doctor finds both conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss present at the same time. But because these two problems exist simultaneously, the treatment is often a hybrid solution designed to correct one and work around the other. To understand this it is important to define the two types of hearing loss that make up a diagnosis of mixed hearing loss.
Conductive Hearing Loss – Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is something going on within the ear canal that prevents sound waves from fully reaching the inner ear and the cochlea. Think of it as a blockage of sorts. In order for hearing to work properly the maximum amount of vibration from sound waves needs to reach the inner ear. If that vibration is interrupted through things like excessive ear wax, ear infections, foreign objects in the ear or a perforated eardrum, conductive hearing loss is the result. The good news is that these conditions are treatable with a nearly 100% success rate.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss – This type of hearing loss is permanent except in very rare cases. It is caused by physical damage done to certain components of the ear including the cochlea, auditory nerve, and brain receptors. Thus far doctors have not found any clinically proven methods to reverse the physical damage of sensorineural hearing loss. All they can do is help patients learn to overcome this physical damage through the use of hearing aids or surgical implants.
Symptoms of Mixed Hearing Loss
Because mixed hearing loss involves both conductive and sensorineural issues, the range of symptoms is somewhat broad. Typically, those with mixed hearing loss will have some of the following complaints:
- a feeling of plugged up ears
- a perception that their own voice is unusually loud
- an inability to distinguish between multiple conversations
- an inability to hear certain sounds and frequencies
- difficulty reading in the midst of sound from a television, a vacuum cleaner, or loud conversation
The range and severity of symptoms will vary depending on which of the two types of individual hearing losses is more prevalent. For example, if the conductive portion is more severe than the sensorineural, symptoms such as an unusually loud voice and the sensation of plugged up ears will be more prevalent. On the other hand, if the sensorineural issues are more severe the issues of distinguishing sounds and conversation will be more noticeable.
Treatment for Mixed Hearing Loss
In most cases the doctors will first focus on treating the conductive hearing loss. The reason for this lies in the fact that it’s difficult to determine the extent of sensorineural damage without first clearing up the conductive issues. Therefore, initial treatment will focus on finding the cause of the conductive hearing loss and fixing it.
Things your doctor will be looking for include excess buildup of ear wax, eardrum perforations, or signs of viral or bacterial infection. In cases where an ear infection is causing conductive hearing loss, vertigo is sometimes an additional symptom. With the use of prescription medications and rest, such infections can be cleared up. In the case of a perforated eardrum the doctor will generally do nothing for the time being, allowing the body to heal the eardrum on its own. Typically a perforated eardrum will heal in 4 to 5 weeks.
Once the conductive hearing loss issue has been dealt with, a doctor will usually refer the patient to an audiologist who will then test for the extent of sensorineural hearing loss. With a diagnosis in hand, the audiologist will recommend various types of hearing aids or implants to address the problem. In almost all of the cases, external hearing aids will be the recommendation. The only time surgical implants are needed is when sensorineural hearing loss causes total deafness or, it is focused mainly on brain receptor issues.
Prognosis for Mixed Hearing Loss
With mixed hearing loss the prognosis is generally a mixed bag of both good and bad. The good lies in the fact that conductive hearing loss is just about 100% correctable. It’s simply a matter of finding out what is interrupting sound transmission and fixing it. On the other hand, the bad part of mixed hearing loss is the fact that sensorineural can only be overcome; it cannot be corrected.
If the sensorineural damage is not extremely severe, the prognosis for mixed hearing loss is fairly good. Hearing aids can be fitted to help amplify specific frequencies and tones the individual is having trouble hearing. With moderate to severe cochlea issues the use of cochlear implants has been found to be very successful. In the extremely severe cases, including a total deafness, certain patients might be candidates for surgical implants which directly stimulate brain receptors.
Regardless of the specific causes of your mixed hearing loss, be comforted in the fact that you’re not alone. There are countless other numbers of Americans dealing with the exact same issues. As long as you cooperate fully with your doctors, and make a point to do your part, you can overcome mixed hearing loss. Only if you allow it to be the defining factor of you will it be so. Otherwise, it doesn’t need to have a negative effect on your quality of life.