What are the Different Types of Hearing Loss?

There are a few different types of hearing loss, depending on which part of the auditory pathway has been affected. The hearing loss may be sensorineural, conductive, central, mixed or functional. Some forms of hearing loss are more treatable than others, but most can benefit from having a hearing aid fitted.

Sensorineural hearing loss

This type of hearing loss accounts for more than 90 percent of the cases in which a hearing aid is worn. It is due to damage in the inner ear or to the acoustic nerve, which keep sound signals from being transmitted to the brain. Also referred to as “nerve deafness” or “retrocochlear hearing loss,” the damage is for the most part permanent, though advancements in technology have allowed some previously untreatable cases to be improved.

The most common causes of sensorineural hearing loss are aging, exposure to noise, problems with circulation of blood to the inner ear, fluid disturbance in the inner ear, medications that cause damage to the ear, some diseases, heredity and problems with the auditory nerve.

Hearing aids are sufficient for most people who have this type of hearing loss, but in more severe cases, a cochlear implant can help restore hearing to those for whom a standard hearing aid is not enough.

Conductive hearing loss

When sound waves are not sufficiently conducted to the inner ear through the parts of the outer and middle ear, conductive hearing loss occurs. This is very common and can be due to an accumulation of ear wax, a buildup of fluid in the eustacian tube, which keeps the eardrum from moving, a middle ear infection, a perforated eardrum, disease of the tiny bones of the middle ear and other obstructions in the ear canal.

Most cases of this type of hearing loss are reversible, assuming there is no permanent damage to the parts of the middle ear, and with treatment the problem usually resolves in a short amount of time. In some cases surgery can help to correct the problem or a hearing aid may be fitted.

Mixed hearing loss

As the term suggests, mixed hearing loss is a combination of different types of hearing loss, in this case the combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. Though there are a couple of other types of hearing loss, the combination of these two is most frequent, so this is what a physician will be referring to when saying that hearing loss is “mixed.”

Central hearing loss

This condition occurs when a problem in the central nervous system keeps sound signals from being processed by the brain. The person affected can seemingly hear perfectly well, but cannot understand or interpret what is being said. Many cases involve a problem with the person’s ability to properly filter competing sounds. For instance, most of us can have a conversation while there is traffic noise in the background, but people with this problem have a difficult time doing so.

Functional hearing loss

A rare occurrence, this type of hearing loss is not physical. This condition is due to an emotional or psychological problem in which the person’s physical ability to hear is found to be normal, but they do not seem to be able to hear or respond.