Hearing disorders are conditions that make it difficult to hear properly or that cause complete hearing loss.
Different ear problems can be triggered by a variety of factors - anything from trauma, to exposure to very loud noises, to disease, to infection, to congenital ear defects – all may play a part in contracting a condition.
The most basic classification of the types of hearing loss is to split them into outer ear and inner ear problems:
Outer ear hearing loss - known as conductive hearing loss, happens when there’s a problem with sounds passing from the outer part of the ear to the inner ear. Blockages like a build-up of earwax or excess fluid through an ear infection are the primary causes.
Inner ear hearing loss – known as sensorineural hearing loss, happens when the auditory nerve is damaged, or the sensitive hair cells either side of the cochlea are impaired. This is usually caused by an injury, trauma or simply through aging.
It is possible to have both types simultaneously. This is known as mixed hearing loss.
In terms of severity, inner ear problems are more serious. Having a problem in this part of the ear means that swift treatment is vital – once the delicate inner machinery of our ears is damaged, it’s very hard to repair.
There are various conditions that can affect our ears: an ear infection, perforated ear drums, a build-up of earwax, or tinnitus. The most common are:
A common ear infection that occurs between the inner and outer ear is known as Otitis Media. This can happen at any point in a person's life, but is usually experienced by children. It’s often able to be cleared up by the body naturally, or in more severe cases with antibiotics. Symptoms include earache, fever and dulled hearing.
An infection of the outer ear is known as Otitis Externa and is commonly referred to as ‘swimmer’s ear’. It gets this title because it’s usually contracted by swimmers and those that have repeated ear exposure to water. Symptoms of this bacterial infection include redness and swelling of the ear canal. Pain can also be experienced, and a liquid discharge may occur. Eardrops and painkillers are usually prescribed, but in more serious cases, antibiotics are used.
A perforated eardrum is a tear in the surface tissue of the eardrum. It can be caused by infection, injury, or a loud noise. Symptoms include earache and temporary hearing loss which usually remedies itself on its own. Surgery may be required in extreme cases.
A build-up of ear wax is a common but manageable problem. Designed to protect our ears, the naturally produced waxy lining for our outer ears stops dirt, infection and prevents our ears from getting dry and sore. If there is a build-up of earwax, easily administered ear drops are recommended. If the blockage persists, it’s advisable to visit your doctor, and they will arrange for the excess ear wax to be removed by ear irrigation.
Tinnitus is when a ringing noise is perceived to be heard continually in the ears or in the head. Other noise that may be heard from ‘within’ the body includes buzzing, humming, whistling and music. It’s a relatively common condition that affects one in ten people, with one in 200 people suffering severely. Tinnitus is known to affect concentration or provoke sleeping problems. Sufferers of tinnitus only manage the condition as so far, there’s no direct treatment that can relieve the symptoms completely.
Hearing problems can occur at any point and should be addressed immediately. Although hearing loss or pain in the ear is most likely to be temporary and easy to clear up, if you contract any symptoms of hearing disorders, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible. This is because some types of hearing problems can result in permanent damage or in extreme cases, deafness.
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