Different Types Of Hearing Loss

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Disclaimer: These explanations, lists, and definitions are not meant to be exhaustive, diagnose, treat an illness or medical condition. If you have any concerns about your ears or hearing consult your doctor or audiologist immediately. If you have a medical emergency call 911.

Many things can cause hearing loss. It can be brought on by a genetic predisposition that runs in families. It could be caused by a head injury, exposure to loud noise or a reaction to medication just to name a few. The different types of hearing loss can be grouped into a few different classifications that we will discuss here.

Sensorineural hearing loss

Sensorineural is the most common type of hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss happens when the hair-like cells in the inner ear called stereocilia or the auditory nerve are damaged. The job of the auditory nerve (also called cochlear or acoustic nerve) is to carry sound information to the brain. Sensorineural is a permanent type of hearing loss.

Causes of sensorineural hearing loss

The two most common causes of sensorineural hearing loss are exposure to loud noises and also presbycusis which is the normal process of aging. Other causes can be from head trauma, genetics, or medications and drugs (Ototoxicity).

Symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss

  • Hearing but difficulty understanding speech.
  • Mumbled or muffled hearing.
  • Trouble engaging in a conversation with two or more people speaking simultaneously
  • A stuffy feeling in the ear.
  • Problem hearing high-pitched sounds like women’s or children’s voices
  • Tinnitus or ringing in the ear.
  • Dizziness or feeling off-balance

common hearing loss causes graphic

Conductive hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss is not as common as sensorineural hearing loss. A conductive hearing loss occurs when sounds can’t get through the outer and middle ear because of damage or obstruction.

Conductive hearing loss is either temporary or permanent depending on the cause.

Causes of conductive hearing loss

  • Earwax (cerumen) impacting the ear canal.
  • A dysfunctional Eustachian tube
  • middle ear tumors and abnormal growths
  • Ear infection (otitis media)
  • narrowing of the ear canal (Stenosis)
  • Middle ear fluid build-up caused by colds or allergies.
  • An eardrum pierced by an object

Symptoms of conductive hearing loss

  • Difficulty hearing quiet sounds
  • Pain in and around one or both ears
  • Pressure building up in one or both ears
  • Fluid draining from your ear
  • Bad odor coming from the ear


Mixed hearing loss

A diagnosis that includes both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss is classified as a mixed hearing loss.

Causes of mixed hearing loss

A brief example to illustrate this would be a person with sensorineural hearing loss brought on by age (presbycusis) who develops conductive hearing loss because of a benign tumor.

Degrees of hearing loss

Hearing loss is classified into one of four clinically labeled degrees.

A person can have mild hearing loss when some speech sounds are heard but soft sounds are difficult to understand.

A person can have moderate hearing loss when they can hardly hear or understand speech spoken at a normal volume level.

A person can have severe hearing loss if they hear little to no speech spoken at a normal volume level and only some loud sounds are heard.

A person can have profound hearing loss if they hear only very loud sounds and no speech.

degrees of hearing loss graphic
degrees of hearing loss graphic

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