Mixed hearing loss is one of the three main types of hearing impairments, with the other two being sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss.
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the inner ear, the hearing nerve, or internal cochlear hair cells fall into disrepair. Conductive hearing loss refers to an issue with either the outer or middle ear. It’s usually a blockage of sorts preventing sound waves from reaching the inner ear.
Mixed hearing loss is a combination of these two auditory conditions. If you’re suffering from both inner and outer/middle ear hearing troubles, it would be classed as mixed hearing loss by a specialist.
How Is Mixed Hearing Loss Identified?
In most cases of mixed hearing loss, a person develops sensorineural hearing loss first, then develops conductive hearing loss after the fact.
As such, a specialist will be looking for the typical signs of a blockage, such as…
Further Hearing Loss
If a person who is already suffering from sensorineural hearing loss reports a comparatively sudden dip in their hearing, it may be a sign that they’re developing a conductive hearing issue.
Things like earwax blockages and Otitis Externa (swimmer’s ear) will often cause dizziness and disorientation.
Itchiness and Pain
Blockages or infections may also cause itchiness or sharp, deep pain.
If a specialist has a hunch that a patient may be suffering from mixed hearing loss, their first port of call will be to examine your outer and middle ear using a tool known as an otoscope.
An otoscope is both a torch and a magnifying glass. It allows a doctor to see the intricate workings of your ear canal.
A patient may also be given a hearing test to establish the severity of hearing loss since they were last tested.
What Causes Mixed Hearing Loss?
As mixed hearing loss is a combination of the other two main types of auditory degradation, it can be the result of a wide variety of contributing factors.
Sensorineural hearing loss, for instance, can be caused by genetic factors, the aging process, certain drugs, injury, disease, or loud noises.
Conductive hearing loss is usually the product of a build-up of earwax, but there are other causes too, including fluid in the middle ear, bone abnormalities, an infection, an eardrum injury, or even a trapped foreign object.
As we’ve already touched upon, mixed hearing loss usually starts with sensorineural issues, but it can work in reverse as well. If an outer or middle ear problem is exacerbated by a lack of treatment, it can eventually lead to permanent damage to the inner ear.
Ultimately, the cause of mixed hearing loss is putting off consulting a specialist about hearing issues. The longer any one type of hearing problem is left untreated, or the longer you go without a checkup after diagnosis, the greater the chance that you’ll develop both forms of hearing loss.
Can Mixed Hearing Loss Be Cured?
Technically speaking, mixed hearing loss can be resolved, but hearing loss itself cannot be cured. It sounds contradictory, but there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation
Conductive hearing loss can normally be remedied via surgical or medical intervention. Backed-up earwax can be extracted using a curette, a curved instrument with a scoop-like end. Alternatively, a doctor may choose to flush out the wax using a syringe or water pick.
Foreign bodies will be tweezed out if at all possible, or if the object has become deeply embedded in the ear canal, it will be flushed out.
Infections can be treated with ear drops and pain-relieving medication, and trapped moisture will be treated with ear drops and warm compresses.
If addressed swiftly, conductive hearing loss is only temporary, although some people are more susceptible to this condition than others, and may need to see a specialist sporadically throughout their lives to keep it at bay.
Sensorineural hearing loss, on the other hand, can not be cured by today’s medicinal and surgical standards. With sensorineural hearing loss, unfortunately, the damage is already done, and there’s very little that a specialist can do to intervene.
However, that’s not to say someone with sensorineural hearing loss has no options. Depending on the severity of the hearing loss, hearing aids are remarkably effective in recouping enough hearing ability for a person to live a relatively normal life.
A more drastic solution is a cochlear implant (CI), a surgically set neuroprosthesis capable of bypassing the damaged natural hearing mechanisms of the ear. They offer an alternative sense of sound by stimulating the auditory nerve with electrical signals.
This procedure has a lot of potential, but as it stands, it doesn’t offer high-quality audio recovery by any stretch. People with the implant have reported that it sounds like a talking doll with a near-dead battery. The signals are so weak and stripped back that patients often have to completely retrain their brains to hear them.
So, yes, mixed hearing loss can be resolved in the sense that the conductive side of the problem can be cured, leaving you with only one form of hearing loss: sensorineural.
Is Mixed Hearing Loss Common?
Being that mixed hearing loss can only occur when you’ve developed both inner and middle/outer ear hearing issues, it’s considered the rarest form of hearing loss.
Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common of the three types of hearing impairments. As it can’t be cured, the numbers of people living with the condition continue to rise. One in three people in the US between the ages of 65 and 74 suffer from sensorineural hearing loss.
Although conductive hearing loss is also quite common, especially in infants, it’s not as widespread across the population.
What Is Mixed Hearing Loss? Summing Up
Strictly speaking, mixed hearing loss isn’t its own hearing impairment. It’s simply a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, meaning that the inner ear has been damaged, and the outer/middle ear has become blocked and/or infected.
If you’re experiencing hearing troubles, it’s essential that you see a doctor as soon as possible. The faster the issue is addressed, the more effective treatment will be, and the more of your hearing you stand to salvage or recover.