Hearing Loss vs. Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)

Both auditory processing disorder (APD) and hearing loss can be difficult or even debilitating conditions without the proper treatment. However, the first step in receiving proper treatment is assessing which condition is present.

The Basics of Hearing

A little girl sitting in front of yellow balloons

Hearing is often simplified as a singular action whereby ears pick up sound. In reality, it’s a much more complex project. In addition to having functional ears, individuals must be able to attribute meaning to the sounds their ears hear. Hearing loss exists across a continuum, while APD is often a result of complications in another system entirely.

What Causes Hearing Loss

In a properly hearing individual, the outer ear picks up sound waves in the environment. When these waves hit the eardrum in the middle ear, it vibrates, and the sound is moved into the inner ear. Inside the inner ear, a nerve sends signals to the brain which are then recognized into speech, music, or any other sound. Because there are so many steps in the process, any flaw in this pathway can result in hearing loss. When there are problems with the middle ear, an often-temporary type of hearing loss called conductive hearing loss can occur. When the cochlea in the inner ear isn’t functioning, it results in sensorineural hearing loss, which will likely require hearing aids.

What Causes APD

Unlike with hearing loss, individuals with APD have functional ears. They simply cannot attribute meaning, interpretation, analysis, or organization to the sounds they are hearing. These individuals may struggle with competing sounds, such as air conditioners, radios, or other background noise while trying to understand conversations. They may have difficulty processing certain phrases or sentences, and, no matter how loudly they are spoken to, they may continue to struggle.

Differentiating Symptoms

Both APD and congenital hearing loss can often be identified early in life. Children who do not react to loud sounds, are unable to detect where a sound is coming from, or have delayed speech development may have hearing loss. Children with APD may be hypersensitive to loud sounds, have difficulty with spelling, and may find it hard to differentiate between similar speech sounds like “pat” and “bat.”

Hearing loss and APD are both treatable conditions, but treatment is impossible without a proper diagnosis. Associated Hearing Professionals offers hearing tests to patients in the St. Louis area to assess their hearing ability and diagnose any issues. To determine if you or a loved one may be experiencing hearing loss or a hearing disorder, schedule an appointment with Associated Hearing Professionals at either of our Greater St. Louis locations.