The three main types of hearing loss describe the underlying cause of the hearing loss and include sensorineural hearing loss, conductive hearing loss and mixed hearing loss.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

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

If a child is born with sensorineural hearing loss, it is most likely due to a genetic syndrome or an infection passed from mother to fetus inside the womb, such as toxoplasmosis, rubella or herpes. When sensorineural hearing loss develops later in life, it can be caused by a wide variety of triggers, including:

  • Meniere's disease

  • Aging (presbycusis)

  • Autoimmune diseases

  • Blood vessel diseases

  • Infections such as meningitis, mumps, scarlet fever and measles

  • A side effect through the use of certain medicines

  • Traumatic injuries

  • Extremely loud noises or loud sounds that last for an extended period of time

  • Acoustic neuroma or other cancerous growths in the inner ear

  • Noise exposure

The symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss affect both the loudness and the clarity of sounds:

  • Problems listening in noisy environments (e.g. train stations, construction sites, convention centers, sports arenas, etc.)

  • Noises may seem too loud or too quiet

  • Difficulty following a conversation when two or more people are speaking at the same time

  • Difficulty hearing women's or children's voices

  • Certain speech sounds are difficult to hear during conversations (e.g. the "s" or "th" sound)

  • A feeling of being off-balance or dizzy

  • Speech of others may seem slurred or mumbled

  • A consistent ringing or buzzing in the ears (Tinnitus)

Conductive Hearing Loss

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 may be temporary or permanent, depending on the cause.

The causes of conductive hearing loss can be differentiated by which part of the ear they affect - either the outer or middle ear:

Outer ear

  • Wax impaction

  • Otitis externa (also known as swimmer's ear)

  • Exostoses (bone-like protrusions that can develop inside the ear canal and cause potential cause blockages)

  • Stenosis or a narrowing of the ear canal

  • Obstructions caused by foreign bodies inserted into the ear

Middle ear

  • Otitis media (ear infection) and/or a buildup of fluid in the middle ear

  • pressure changes

  • Ossicular chain discontinuity, or a break in the connection between the bones of the middle ear, caused by injury or heavy trauma

  • Tympanosclerosis or a thickening of the tympanic membrane

  • A breach in the tympanic membrane caused by injury, ear infections or extreme and rapid air

  • Blockages in the Eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to the back of the nose and throat

  • Otosclerosis, a rare medical condition that causes the middle ear bones to freeze up

  • Abnormal growths or tumors that form within the middle ear, such as cholesteatoma or glomus tumors

Because the sensitive inner ear and auditory nerve are intact, an individual suffering from conductive hearing loss primarily has difficulty with the overall loudness of sounds, but not the clarity. Individuals with this kind of loss often find that turning up the volume of the radio or television is all it takes to improve their ability to hear. The following symptoms are also consistent with this type of loss:

  • Difficulty or frustration with telephone conversations

  • A foul odor coming from the ear canal

  • Pain in one or both ears

  • A feeling that one's own voice sounds louder or different

  • Easier time hearing out of one ear than the other

  • Sensation of pressure in one or both ears

Mixed Hearing Loss

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

Mixed hearing loss commonly occurs when the ear sustains some sort of trauma. It can also happen gradually over time when one hearing loss is compounded by another. For example, an individual with a long-standing conductive hearing loss might experience presbycusis as they age. Alternatively, an individual with sensorineural hearing loss may have a temporary mixed hearing loss due to wax impaction.

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



                   (Your Right to Hear)

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