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Types of hearing loss

There are 3 overall types of hearing loss: sensorineural, conductive, and mixed hearing loss. In treating hearing loss, it is important to understand the differences in order to determine the best treatment option.

What are the main types of hearing loss?

The main types of hearing loss are differentiated based on which part of the ear is damaged:

  • Sensorineural hearing loss caused by damage to the inner ear or hearing nerve. This prevents the damaged area from properly transmitting sound to the brain.
  • Conductive hearing loss is caused by damage in the external and/or middle ear and, in most cases, it is medically treatable.
  • Mixed hearing loss - In some cases, both aspects of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss are present; this is referred to as mixed hearing loss.

Degree of hearing loss

image shoes heart divided into different causes of hearing loss
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Quiz yourself: Should I get my hearing checked?

Answer a few questions to see if you could benefit from a hearing assessment.*

Question 1 – Around the table
Do you have trouble following conversations when there are 4 or more people present?
Have you received advice from your family or friends to get your hearing tested?
Do you ever struggle to understand what others are saying because you cannot hear properly?
Do you find yourself turning up the TV or radio even when the volume is loud enough for others?

Your Result:

A hearing assessment is relevant for you

Your answers indicate that you experience symptoms of hearing loss. We strongly recommend booking a hearing assessment in one of our hearing centers.

The result is an indication. An in-person hearing assessment can determine if you have a hearing loss.



Book your complimentary hearing assessment:

Your Result:

A hearing assessment seems relevant for you

Your answers indicate that you experience some symptoms of hearing loss. We recommend booking a hearing assessment in one of our clinics.

The result is an indication. An in-person hearing assessment can determine if you have a hearing loss.



Book your complimentary hearing assessment:

Your Result:

It cannot be determined here if a hearing assessment is relevant for you

Your answers do not indicate that you experience symptoms of hearing loss. However, if you experience trouble hearing, we recommend booking a hearing assessment in one of our hearing centers.

The result is an indication. An in-person hearing assessment can determine if you have a hearing loss.




Book your complimentary hearing assessment:

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Sensorineural hearing loss

Sensorineural hearing loss (or sensorineural deafness) is the most common type of hearing loss. When experiencing sensorineural hearing loss, sounds may be unclear or difficult to hear. Voices in conversation may be distorted, and it may seem like others are mumbling.

Causes of sensorineural hearing loss

Treating sensorineural hearing loss
This type of hearing loss is often treated with hearing aids.

Sensorineural hearing loss

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Conductive hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss is usually a result of a disruption to the sound's path as it travels from the outer / middle ear to the inner ear.

Causes of conductive hearing loss
This type of hearing loss can also be caused by an obstruction in the ear canal, such as earwax or liquid preventing sound from reaching the ear drum.

Treating conductive hearing loss
Treatment for conductive hearing loss includes: earwax removal, medical treatments, and surgical treatments.

Conductive hearing loss

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Other types of hearing loss

There are other ways to describe hearing loss types. For example:

- High or low-frequency: Indicates whether you are unable to hear high or low-pitched sounds (i.e. high frequency hearing loss means you cannot hear high-pitched sounds)
Learn more about high frequency hearing loss 
Learn more about low frequency hearing loss 

- Unilateral or bilateral: Indicates whether one (unilateral) or both (bilateral) ears are affected by hearing loss
Find out more about bilateral hearing loss
Find out more about unilateral hearing loss

- Progressive or sudden hearing loss: Indicates whether the hearing loss happens quickly or gradually over time

- Acquired or congenital: Indicates whether your hearing was present at birth or acquired at a later stage in life

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Tinnitus: ringing in the ears

Tinnitus is a ringing, buzzing, whistling, roaring, hissing sound in the ear that only you can hear. Tinnitus affects 15-20% of people, and it is very often one of the first signs of hearing loss.¹²

The most common cause is exposure to excessive noise, which damages the tiny hair cells in the inner ear. The sound of tinnitus is the result of your brain trying to compensate for the loss of hair cells. The brain misinterprets the reduced signals from the ear, resulting in a perception of sound, or tinnitus.

Online Tinnitus Quiz Tinnitus
Leslie Soiles, Chief Audiologist
Dr. Leslie Soiles

Au.D., Doctor of Audiology
Lic. #364, Chief Audiologist, HearingLife

Dr. Leslie Soiles founded HearingLife's Shrewsbury's office (formerly New England Hearing Instruments) in 1996. As a Doctor of Audiology, she has worked with Ear, Nose and Throat Physicians for the first 20 years of her career.

Dr. Soiles serves as Chief Audiologist for HearingLife. Click here to read her complete bio and learn more about her education and background.

Sources

1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tinnitus/symptoms-causes/syc-20350156
2. David M Baguley, Mechanisms of tinnitus, British Medical Bulletin, Volume 63, Issue 1, October 2002, Pages 195–212, https://doi.org/10.1093/bmb/63.1.195