Types of Hearing Loss

Types of Hearing Loss

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs when there are problems in the outer ear, ear canal, eardrum or middle ear. It can be caused by any of the following:

  • Ear infection.
  • Fluid in the ears.
  • Malformation or abnormalities of the outer or middle ear.
  • Impacted earwax.
  • Foreign object in the ear.
  • Allergies.
  • Perforated eardrum.
  • Otosclerosis.
  • Benign tumors.

Conductive hearing loss is often correctable with surgery or medications (typically antibiotics). Alternatively, it may be treated with hearing aids.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss involves a problem with the inner ear and is frequently referred to as “nerve deafness.” It may be caused by any of these:

  • Noise exposure.
  • Head trauma.
  • Aging (presbycusis).
  • Viral disease.
  • Autoimmune ear disease.
  • Meniere’s disease.
  • Malformation or abnormality of the inner ear.
  • Tumors.

Sensorineural hearing loss can sometimes be treated with medications (corticosteroids) or surgery. More likely, hearing aids will be required.

Man holding his ears in pain

Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing loss is a combination of both types. Treatment might involve a combination of medication, surgery and/or hearing aids.

In addition to the different types of hearing loss, it is important to consider the extent to which a patient is experiencing symptoms. Hearing loss is further categorized as being either monaural or binaural.

Unilateral hearing loss (sometimes referred to as single-sided deafness) affects one ear only, while bilateral hearing loss affects both ears.

Patients with unilateral hearing loss have normal hearing in one ear and impaired hearing in the other; they have difficulty hearing on one side and localizing sound. Individuals with bilateral hearing loss have impaired hearing in both ears. The condition is most often treated with hearing aids (two are more effective than one) or cochlear implants.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common type experienced by younger individuals. It can be caused by exposure to a single loud sound, such as a gunshot or explosion, or by continuous exposure to loud noise over a period of time.

When sounds exceed 85 decibels (dB) they are considered hazardous to your hearing health. Continuous exposure to volume levels that high causes permanent damage to the hair cells in your ears.

Activities that put people at risk for noise-induced hearing loss include hunting, riding a motorcycle, listening to music at high volumes, playing in a band and attending rock concerts. An estimated 15 percent of Americans aged 20 to 69 have hearing loss that may have been caused by noise exposure. This type of hearing loss can be prevented by wearing earplugs and protective devices.