Types of hearing loss and how to identify them

Last Updated20-01-2020

Similar to vision loss, there are different types and severity levels of hearing loss. We outline the differences between them that might help you distinguish one from the other.
There are different types of hearing loss and many different ways they can affect individuals. Sometimes it's just a simple issue like excessive wax in the ear canal or a temporary ear infection, but in many cases, it may be caused by something more significant, such as nerve damage or aging.

The depth of the hearing loss also varies and can range from an inability to hear soft tones to total deafness in one or both ears. Hearing loss can be generally be classified into three types:
  • Conductive Hearing Loss
  • Sensorineural Hearing Loss
  • Mixed Hearing Loss 

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss happens when sound is obstructed inside the ear canal or in the mid-ear. Sound volume and overall clarity are reduced when travelling to the inner ear and specifically to the cochlea, where the sound is processed in tandem with brain.

Often able to be treated through the use of antibiotics, surgery, or other simple procedures, this type of hearing loss is not always permanent, though it can leave lasting effects if not treated correctly.

Possible Causes

  • Significant wax accumulation
  • Growths in the middle ear also known as "Cholesteatomas"
  • Middle ear infections are also known as "Otitis media"
  • A stiffening of the small bones in the middle ear or "Otosclerosis"


Conductive hearing losses may affect hearing for both high and low frequencies, but it more often affects low frequencies, making everything seem quieter. Trouble hearing speech or the television at low volume are typically indicators of an issue. Depending on the cause, there may be a lack of balance or physical pain in the ears or head. If this is the case, please seek help from a medical professional as soon as possible to prevent further damage. 


Most forms of conductive hearing loss can be treated medically, as they are typically due to some form of blockage interrupting the passage of sound.  In some cases, it can be something as simple as an accumulation of earwax in the ear canal that can be removed with the help of a specialist, while in other cases it may require a form of surgery.

While many of the causes of conductive hearing loss can be treated - if damage has been done to the nerves or cells inside your ear - the effects can last longer. Your local hearing professional may suggest the use of hearing aids. Hearing aids increase the volume of the sound reaching the cochlea, which is in the inner ear. In many cases, this is enough of a solution to improve the patient's sound quality and reception.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss is by far the most common form of hearing loss, due mostly to the fact that this type of hearing loss results from aging. This form of hearing loss can stem from an incident of acute high-noise causing damage to the ear, such as a gunshot or car accident. However, we see this happen most often due to the natural wear and tear our ears naturally over time.

The hair cells within our ears are not able to repair themselves, which is why this is a more permanent form of hearing loss than conductive. This can also result from damage to the nerves that send signals from the ear to the brain.

  • Aging: Natural deterioration of hair cells in the ears.
  • Genetic factors: People can be genetically predisposed to have hearing loss. This can cause children to have their condition early in life or at birth.
  • Exposure to high noises: The ear can be damaged by long-term exposure or short, high-impact noises.
  • Illnesses and prior conditions: Diseases and conditions such Diabetes, and Ménière's disease that increase risks of hearing loss.
  • Types of medication/drugs: A side-effect of medications on the ear's nervous system.
  • Head trauma: Impact injuries to the ear or the head.


Muffled speech or difficult hearing in noisy situations are common signs of a hearing loss. You may feel like you are straining or exerting more effort to hear in louder environments such as restaurant or cocktail party. Ask your loved ones and the ones you interact most with throughout your day if they have noticed a change in your hearing.


An audiologist or hearing specialist can help you diagnose and determine the best method of treating your hearing loss. There are multiple hearing aid options out there and the technology is only getting better. Many of today's models are able to be fine-tuned to your unique listening preferences, with features and programs that make enhance speech in loud environment and improve sound clarity.