Types of hearing loss


Hearing loss is a condition in which you cannot hear sound completely in one or both of your ears. Hearing loss is a progressive disorder, meaning it happens gradually and spreads over time. About 25% of people between the ages of 65 and 74 suffer from hearing loss. However, hearing loss is not limited by a person’s age; many things can lead to it.

Other names you may see for hearing loss include:

  • Hearing loss
  • hearing loss
  • Deafness

In this article, we’ll discuss the three main types of hearing loss and the different ways to manage each one.

Vladimir Vladimirov/Getty Images


The three main types of hearing loss are conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, and mixed hearing loss. Read on to find out what causes each of these types, where they occur in the ear, and whether treatment is available.


With conductive hearing loss, sound waves are unable to reach the inner ear (cochlea). With this type of hearing loss, sound waves may not reach the cochlea due to earwax, foreign bodies in the ear canal, or damage to the eardrum. Also, the middle ear may be infected, have a bony deformity, or be filled with fluid.

Conductive hearing loss can be treated with medical or surgical methods, although these options are not available to everyone. Children who have had repeated ear infections or who insert foreign objects into their canal may have conductive hearing loss.


It is the most common type of hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the cochlea or auditory nerve is damaged. This usually happens when some of the cochlear hair cells are damaged.

Old age, injury, illness, certain medications, and exposure to loud noise over time can be responsible for this loss. Some people could also have this condition passed down genetically from their parents.

Unlike conductive hearing loss, this loss may not be treated surgically or medically. Instead, hearing aids are more useful for people in this category because their auditory nerves and hair cells have been affected.


It is possible to have some sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. Some people initially have sensorineural hearing loss and later develop conductive hearing loss.

General causes of hearing loss

  • Old age
  • Earwax blockage
  • ear infection
  • Tumors
  • Injury or damage to the eardrum
  • Listen to loud sounds for a long time

Driver vs Sensorineural

Sensorineural hearing loss is usually the defect caused by damage to the auditory nerves or inner ear. If you have this type, you are expected to have problems converting sound waves into signals that your brain can understand and translate.

Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound cannot get through your outer or middle ear at all. Things like fluid buildup, ear infections, ruptured eardrum, tumors, earwax blockage, foreign bodies, and abnormal bone growth can cause this.

Do these types sound different?

Both types of hearing loss usually have similar signs. Specifically, people with conductive hearing loss hear muffled sounds, while people with sensorineural hearing loss hear distorted sounds in addition to muffled sounds.

If there are hearing problems before and after the inner ear, then it is a mixed hearing loss.

Some people may only hear in one ear from birth, in childhood, or it may develop into adulthood. This is called unilateral deafness. It can be caused by sensorineural or conductive hearing loss, and treatment depends on the type of loss and how long it lasts.

Unilateral deafness

Some people may only hear in one ear from birth, in childhood, or it may develop into adulthood. This is called unilateral deafness. It can be caused by sensorineural or conductive hearing loss, and treatment depends on the type of loss and how long it lasts.

Diagnose hearing loss

It is essential that you get a proper diagnosis if you are living with any type of hearing loss. It is important to detect hearing loss earlier so that you have a better chance of treating it sooner. Sometimes this can be reversed and you can regain perfect hearing.

Your doctor can perform tests to determine the type of loss you may be experiencing. Some of them include the following:

  • A physical examination may be performed to check your ear for any earwax blockage, infection, or structural bone deformity.
  • General screening tests involve covering one ear before the other to check that you can hear words and different volumes.
  • tuning fork test (Rinne and Weber test) uses a two-pronged metal to test your hearing. Once it has been struck and begins to vibrate, your doctor may place it on the bone behind the ear for the vibration to identify exactly where the hearing loss is.
  • Audiometric tests where you wear headphones and listen to sounds in your ear. An audiologist is the best provider option in this case because they are trained to measure the sound you hear.

Detect hearing loss earlier

It is important to detect hearing loss early. Treating hearing loss as early as possible can help prevent future damage to your hearing.

Hearing test

Hearing tests are specific tests performed by audiologists to accurately diagnose the type of hearing loss a person may be experiencing.

A hearing test is important in determining the exact type of loss you are experiencing and will go a long way in finding the solution and treatment plan that is right for you.


The treatment you may receive varies and depends on the type of hearing loss. If sudden hearing loss is treated urgently, your chances of regaining your hearing are higher. Treatments include:

  • Surgery could reverse hearing loss from otosclerosis (hearing loss due to bone growth in the ossicles of the middle ear), scar tissue, or infection.
  • If it is a minor ear infection, antibiotics can resolve it.
  • Changing some prescriptions might help if you notice reactions to the one you were given. However, you should talk to your doctor before switching medications.
  • If earwax builds up, your doctor may use suction to clean your ear canal.
  • A hearing aid is particularly useful for people with permanent hearing loss. They are worn in or behind your ear to help you hear better.
  • Some devices like phone amplifiers can help read what’s on your phone to make conversation easier.
  • Cochlear implants, which are primarily intended for young children, could be used in older people with severe cases.

When to consult a doctor

If you notice that you aren’t hearing as well as you used to, now is the best time to talk to your healthcare provider. Even if it’s not easy to explain how you feel, it’s the best way to deal with the problem. Discuss the following with your healthcare provider:

  • Discuss the symptoms you have and when they appear
  • Ask them how these symptoms can be treated or improved
  • Talk about ways to protect your hearing from further hearing loss


Hearing loss is a condition that prevents people from hearing well in one or both ears. Things like illness, certain medications, exposure to noise for a long time, genetics, accidents, and aging can lead to hearing loss.

The three main types of hearing loss are conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, and mixed hearing loss, with sensorineural hearing loss being the most common. Sometimes hearing loss can be treated with the use of medication or with surgery. However, it depends on the cause and type of hearing loss.

In severe cases, hearing loss can be managed with hearing aids or cochlear implants.

A word from Verywell

Hearing loss can affect your relationships with people and dull your feelings in general. If you have hearing loss, feelings of depression or loneliness may arise due to difficulty talking to others and engaging in daily life. Telling your health care provider about what you’re going through early can help you manage the discomfort or, even better, restore your hearing.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is hearing loss considered a disability?

    According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), hearing loss or deafness is a disability.

  • How do you know if hearing loss is permanent or temporary?

    Temporary hearing loss occurs for a short time. Things like earwax buildup, infections, and tinnitus can lead to temporary hearing loss. It is mostly reversible after treatment.

    Permanent hearing loss is irreversible and progresses over time. Aging, sensorineural deafness and ototoxicity (poisoning of the ear due to drugs) may be responsible.

  • Can you prevent hearing loss?

    According to the NHS, hearing loss cannot always be prevented. Things like aging, which is a cause of hearing loss, are inevitable. But hearing loss caused by prolonged listening to loud sounds can be completely avoided.


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