Hearing Loss: Does Gender Play a Role?

, University of Washington Medical Center; , University of Washington Medical Center, Virginia Merrill Bloedel Hearing Research Center


Medscape General Medicine. 1997;1(2) 

In This Article

Hearing Loss: Some Definitions

Hearing loss is generally categorized into conductive, sensorineural, and a combination of the 2 types. Table I lists selected causes of conductive and sensorineural types of hearing loss in females.

Conductive hearing loss. This type of hearing loss originates in the external or middle ear; passage of sound to the cochlea is obstructed or reduced secondary to infection, congenital deformity, tumor, trauma, or otosclerosis within the sound-conducting apparatus. While males experience more episodes of otitis media than females (55% and 45%, respectively), the female-to-male ratio for otosclerosis is about 2:1. Otosclerosis--the inherited formation of abnormal bone within the bony labyrinth--is the most common cause of conductive hearing loss in people 15 years of age or older. Identifying conductive hearing loss is essential because many of its causes are treatable, and hearing can be restored.

Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL). This occurs when the cochlea (inner ear) or the cochlear portion of the eighth (acoustic) nerve is affected, as by a lesion, infection, or systemic disease, thus preventing transmission of the signal to the brain. (See Box, "The Cochlea: Anatomy and Physiology.") The causes of SNHL are numerous. A partial list includes ototoxicity, presbycusis, Meniere's disease, birth trauma, exposure to excessive noise, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune disease, congenital abnormalities, and sudden idiopathic hearing loss (Table I).

The cochlea has been viewed as an "isolated" organ. In fact, the cochlea is a dynamic organ that, like the heart or lungs, is susceptible to diseases of congenital, infectious, vascular, endocrine, immune, neurologic, and traumatic origin. These diseases often have a devastating impact on the lives of those affected.

The remainder of this article focuses on SNHL: specifically, on the important differences between men and women with regard to age-associated hearing loss (presbycusis).