Types and causes of hearing loss

Learn the three types of hearing loss and their main causes.

By the time we reach 65, one in three of us will have a hearing impairment.

Types of hearing loss

There are three types of hearing loss — sensorineural hearing loss, conductive hearing loss, and mixed hearing loss.

Sensorineural hearing loss

Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss. It occurs when the inner ear nerves and hair cells are damaged — perhaps due to age, noise damage or something else. Sensorineural hearing loss impacts the pathways from your inner ear to your brain. Most times, sensorineural hearing loss cannot be corrected medically or surgically, but can be treated and helped with the use of hearing aids.

Conductive hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss is typically the result of obstructions in the outer or middle ear — perhaps due to fluid, tumors, earwax or even ear formation. This obstruction prevents sound from getting to the inner ear. Conductive hearing loss can often be treated surgically or with medicine.

Mixed hearing loss

Mixed hearing loss is just what it sounds like — a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss.

As with any medical condition, it’s best to know what you “have” before deciding what to do about it. A consultation with a hearing professional can help determine the type, cause and degree of your hearing loss. Click here to find an experienced provider near you.

Degrees of hearing loss

There are four clinically labeled degrees of hearing loss:

Mild

If you have mild hearing loss, you may hear some speech sounds, but will have difficulty with soft sounds.

Moderate

If you have moderate hearing loss, you’ll struggle to hear/understand speech when someone is talking at a normal level.

Severe

If you have severe hearing loss, you will hear little-to-no speech when spoken at normal levels, and hear only some loud sounds.

Profound

If you have profound hearing loss, you may only hear very loud sounds and no speech at all.

Causes of hearing loss

Hearing loss is caused by many factors, most frequently from natural aging or exposure to loud noise. The most common causes of hearing loss are:

  • Aging
  • Noise exposure
  • Head trauma
  • Virus or disease
  • Genetics
  • Ototoxicity

Things that can cause sensorineural hearing loss are:

  • Aging
  • Injury
  • Excessive noise exposure
  • Viral infections (such as measles or mumps)
  • Shingles
  • Ototoxic drugs (medications that damage hearing)
  • Meningitis
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • High fever or elevated body temperature
  • Ménière's disease (a disorder of the inner ear that can affect hearing and balance)
  • Acoustic tumors
  • Heredity
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Hypertension

Things that can cause conductive hearing loss are:

  • Infections of the ear canal or middle ear resulting in fluid or pus buildup
  • Perforation or scarring of the eardrum
  • Wax buildup
  • Dislocation of the middle ear bones (ossicles)
  • Foreign object in the ear canal
  • Otosclerosis (an abnormal bone growth in the middle ear)
  • Abnormal growths or tumors
Next: Symptoms

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