Types of hearing loss

If you’re trying to figure out what type of hearing loss you have, you’ve come to the right place.

Here you’ll gain insight into the four different types of hearing loss:

Intrigued? Let’s begin.

“There are four different types of hearing loss”

Contents

1.

Quick summary

2.

Sensorineural hearing loss

3.

Conductive hearing loss

4.

Mixed hearing loss

5.

Auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder

1.

Quick summary

You might wonder how many types of hearing loss there can be – a hearing loss is a hearing loss, right?

However, it turns out that there are four different types of hearing loss.

 – And why is that important to know, you might ask?

The type of hearing loss is essential to understand because it affects how the hearing loss should be treated.

We’ll start by briefly describing each type before going into detail with the different hearing loss types.

The difference between the four types of hearing loss

There are four types of hearing loss — sensorineural, conductive, mixed, and auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder (ANSD).

  • Sensorineural hearing loss is what happens when there is damage to hair cells or nerves. It is untreatable but can be significantly improved with hearing aids.
  • Conductive hearing loss is when there is a blockage in the outer or middle ear. It is typically treatable through surgery or a minor procedure.
  • Mixed hearing loss is a combination of the two that does not necessarily happen at the same time.
  • ANSD is a hearing disorder, where both the outer, middle, and inner ear works fine in terms of detecting sounds, but the inner ear has lost its ability to transmit sounds from the ear to the brain.

In this article, you’ll learn more about what separates and defines the different hearing loss types from each other.

If you’re interested in more knowledge on what to do, if you have a hearing loss, you can check our ultimate hearing loss guide here, or if you want to skip all the hard work and quickly see a hearing specialist free, you can do that here.

2.

Sensorineural hearing loss

Sensorineural hearing loss – or SNHL – is the most common cause of reduced hearing. It occurs when the inner ear or actual hearing nerves undertake some damage. This could be damage to the cochlea or tiny hair cells in the inner ear. More often than not, this type of hearing loss is a result of aging. The inner ear structures and hair cells degenerate over time, causing reduced hearing. This is often heredity, why some people are more prone to this than others.

However, exposure to loud noises is also a big factor in driving the increase of people suffering from SNHL. Such damage can happen either through short blasts of high volume noises like a gunshot or from long term exposure. Long term exposure could be occupationally related, like directing city traffic, as a lumberjack, or as a roadie for a heavy metal rock band. Granted, these are not the most typical jobs, but sometimes a clear example drives the understanding. It can also be recreational. Like if you are a motorcycle enthusiast or love to go hunting.

Other factors can also affect the inner ear, such as head trauma that damages the inner ear. Different diseases can also be a factor. Take Ménière’s disease, a sensorineural type of hearing loss, often accompanied by dizziness and ringing in the ear. It tends to come and go in the beginning but will become more permanent over time.

Worth noting for sensorineural hearing loss is that it is not medically or surgically treatable. Meaning once you take enough damage to the inner ear, there is no turning back. That’s why you need to be careful with the volumes you expose yourself to. And please pass this message on to the rest of your family – consistently. However, many people will find comfort that hearing aids are often very beneficial in sustaining a proper hearing and quality of life.

3.

Conductive hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss takes place in the outer or middle ear. The outer ear is made up of the ear lobe and ear canal, while the middle ear is made up of the eardrum and three small bones called ossicles that send movement from the eardrum to the inner ear. Conductive hearing loss comes from blockages that prevent sounds from moving to the inner ear. 

These blockages can come in many different shapes and sizes. For instance, the most hoped for blockage can be in the form of fluids or ear wax stuck in nice and tight. Here, a simple suction procedure can clear it out. However, there can also be more severe reasons behind the symptom of conductive hearing loss. Firstly, due to the ossicles being a major part of the middle ear, any abnormalities that may have occurred to them could significantly impact your hearing. Perhaps the most dreaded reason could be a tumor or growth somewhere in your outer or middle ear. As previously stated on this site, if you have issues with your hearing, see an audiologist as soon as possible. This further amplifies that importance. 

What is worth noting is that these blockages do not only come from internal sources – it could also be an external subject getting stuck in your outer ear. A small stone can nestle its way into your ear on the beach. And if you think of all the things children put on their noses and ears, this might be a good place to start with your audiologist. 

The good thing about conductive hearing loss is that it is usually treatable. Either through medicine or surgery.

4.

Mixed hearing loss

Some people are unfortunate enough to get hit by a one-two punch of hearing implications. In such cases, you talk about “mixed hearing loss.” You will experience a conductive hearing loss in this scenario, which occurs simultaneously as sensorineural hearing loss. There will then be recent damage to the outer or middle ear, while the inner ear has also undertaken damage. The inner ear damage could be recent, or it could have started a while back. An example of this is if you work with power tools and have done so for a while. Your inner ear takes damage from the consistent loud noises. Suddenly, you get an infection causing fluid in your middle ear. That is a double whammy of hearing loss.

5

Auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder​

ANSD is a hearing disorder, where both the outer, middle, and inner ear works fine in terms of detecting sounds. However, the issue lies with the inner ears’ ability to transmit sounds from the ear to the brain. In these cases, people can have no issues hearing sounds, but they lack a standard speech-perception ability. This means that they can have difficulties following a conversation because sounds may fade in and out. The cause behind ANSD stems from damage to the auditor neurons that send sounds from the hair cells in the inner ear to the brain. In some cases, it can also be a cracked link between the hair cells and the auditory nerve itself. In terms of treating it, there is still ongoing research on how to do this most effectively. 

There is evidence that some might benefit from hearing aids or cochlear devices, but this is not a standard treatment method that everyone will benefit from. Understanding why hearing aids and implants work on some and not others is a big first step in figuring out a “fits all” type treatment.