Types of Hearing Loss – Learn more about Sensorineural, Conductive, and Mixed


Illustration explaining the types of hearing loss.

The main types of hearing loss are classified into three categories:

  • Sensorineural hearing loss, which means that there is a problem occurring either in the inner ear or in the auditory nerve, which delivers sound to the brain.
  • Transmission hearing loss, which means that the sound does not reach the inner ear, usually due to an obstruction or trauma.
  • Mixed hearing loss means hearing loss is caused by a combination of the two.

Illustration credit Hough Ear Institute

Sensorineural hearing loss

The most common type of hearing loss is sensorineural. This is permanent hearing loss that occurs when there is damage to the tiny hair-like cells in the inner ear, called stereocilia, or to the auditory nerve itself, which prevents or weakens the transfer. nerve signals to the brain. These blocked nerve signals carry information about the intensity and clarity of sounds.


A woman takes a hearing test.
A hearing test can help determine which type
of hearing loss you have.

If a child is born with sensorineural hearing loss, it is most likely due to a genetic syndrome or an infection passed from the mother to the fetus inside the womb, such as toxoplasmosis, rubella or herpes.

When sensorineural hearing loss develops later in life, which is more typical, it can be caused by a wide variety of triggers.

Most common causes:

  • Normal aging (medically called presbycusis or age-related hearing loss)
  • Exposure to loud noise, often acquired on the job

Less common causes


Symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss affect both the intensity and the clarity of sounds. For many people, they will have hearing loss in the high frequencies, which will lead to the following hearing problems:

  • Other people’s speech may seem scrambled or mumbled, or, a feeling that you can hear but not understand
  • Difficulty following a conversation when two or more people are talking at the same time
  • Constant ringing or ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Listening problems in noisy environments (ex: stations, construction sites, convention centers, sports stadiums, etc.)
  • Difficulty hearing women’s or children’s voices and other high-pitched sounds
  • Some speech sounds are difficult to hear during conversations (for example the “s” or “th” sound)
  • Noises may sound too loud or too quiet (yes, too loud!)
  • A feeling of imbalance or dizziness

People with sensorineural hearing loss often say they can hear people speak, but not clearly.


There is no medical or surgical method to repair the tiny hair-like cells in the inner ear or the auditory nerve if they are damaged. However, sensorineural hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids or cochlear implants, depending on the severity of the loss.

Hearing aids, such as alert devices, vibrating alarm clocks, and captioned phones, help provide a complete hearing solution. For people with severe to profound hearing loss, powerful hearing aids can help.

Transmission hearing loss

Baby with ear infection pulling on the ear
Ear infections in children are common
temporary conductive hearing cause

A less common type of hearing loss is conductive hearing loss, which occurs when there is an obstruction or damage to the outer or middle ear that prevents sound from being conducted to the inner ear. Conductive hearing loss can be temporary or permanent, depending on the cause.


The causes of conductive hearing loss can be differentiated according to the part of the ear they affect, either the outer ear or the middle ear:

Outer ear

  • Stenosis or narrowing of the ear canal
  • Wax impaction
  • Exostoses (bone-like protuberances that can grow inside the ear canal and cause potential blockages)
  • Otitis externa (also called swimmer’s ear)
  • Obstructions caused by foreign objects inserted into the ear
  • Microtia

Middle ear

  • A breach in the tympanic membrane (eardrum) caused by injury, ear infections, or extreme and rapid changes in air pressure
  • Tympanosclerosis, a thickening of the tympanic membrane
  • Otitis media (ear infection) and / or fluid buildup in the middle ear
  • Blockages in the Eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to the back of the nose and throat
  • Otosclerosis, which affects the small bone in the middle ear known as the stapes
  • Abnormal growths or tumors that form in the middle ear, such as cholesteatoma or glomus tumors
  • Ossicular chain discontinuity, or rupture of the connection between the bones in the middle ear, caused by severe injury or trauma


Because both the sensitive inner ear and the auditory nerve are intact, a person with conductive deafness primarily has difficulty with overall sound intensity, but not clarity. People with this type of loss often find that it is enough to turn up the volume on the radio or television to improve their ability to hear. The following symptoms are also compatible with this type of loss:

  • Easier to hear with one ear than the other
  • Pain in one or both ears
  • Sensation of pressure in one or both ears
  • Difficulty or frustration with telephone conversations
  • A foul odor coming from the ear canal
  • A feeling that his own voice is louder or different


Sometimes there are medical or surgical treatments that can improve the hearing ability of people with conductive deafness. For example, conduction losses caused by wax impaction, foreign bodies, abnormal growths, or ear infections can often be corrected with medical treatments, such as wax removal, antibiotics, or procedures. surgical.

Conductive hearing loss caused by other abnormalities, such as ear canal stenosis, exostosis, otosclerosis, and ossicular chain discontinuity are more difficult to treat medically and can be considered permanent hearing loss. These conduction losses can be treated either with standard hearing aids or with implantable bone anchored devices.

Mixed hearing loss

Mixed hearing loss is any combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss.


Mixed hearing loss usually occurs when the ear experiences some kind of trauma. It can also happen gradually over time when one hearing loss is made worse by another. For example, a person with a long-standing conductive hearing loss may experience age-related hearing loss as they age. Alternatively, a person with age-related hearing loss may have temporary mixed hearing loss due to wax impaction. Explosion injuries or other types of trauma can cause sensorineural and conductive hearing loss.


The symptoms of mixed hearing loss will be a combination of those listed above for the other two types of hearing loss.


Treatment options for mixed hearing loss will depend on whether the more sensorineural or conductive nature of the loss is. If more of the loss is caused by a conductive component, surgeries and other medical treatments may be more effective in correcting the hearing problems. If most of the loss is sensorineural, hearing aids or implantable devices may be the best option.

Unilateral deafness

Some people are born with only one ear. In other cases, a person can lose hearing in one ear when they are a child or an adult. All types are collectively known as unilateral deafness. The cause can be sensorineural or conductive, and treatment varies depending on the cause of the hearing loss and the duration of the hearing loss.

Sudden hearing loss

If this type of hearing loss develops suddenly, get help quickly. Prompt treatment is essential to maintain your hearing or prevent it from getting worse.

How to get help

If you or a loved one has a hearing loss, visit our directory of consumer-reviewed hearing clinics to find a professional immediately. He or she will investigate the cause and suggest treatment options based on your needs. Many conductive and mixed hearing losses can be treated medically and almost all types of hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids, implantable devices and / or listening aids.


Comments are closed.