Types of hearing loss

There are two general kinds of hearing loss—conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss.

What is conductive hearing loss?

A conductive hearing loss is caused by anything that prevents sound from reaching the inner ear or cochlea. In other words, conductive hearing loss is caused by problems in the outer ear (ear canal) or middle ear (eardrum and ear bones). Conductive hearing loss can often be treated through medical intervention (surgery and/or medications).

Conductive hearing loss can be congenital (present at birth) or acquired later in life. Congenital conductive hearing loss can be caused by things like

  • abnormalities of the pinna (the external portion of the ear)
  • abnormalities of the tympanic membrane (eardrum)
  • abnormalities of the external ear canal
  • abnormalities of the ossicles (the three tiny bones that conduct sound through the middle ear)

Acquired conductive hearing loss can be caused by things like

  • excessive wax
  • foreign bodies in the ear canal (beads, food, etc.)
  • tumors of the middle ear
  • problems with the eustachian tube
  • otitis media (ear infections)
  • chronic ear infections with fluid in the middle ear
  • perforation of the eardrum

What is a sensorineural hearing loss?

A sensorineural hearing loss is any hearing loss that is due to damage or dysfunction of the inner ear (cochlea) or auditory nerve. This type of hearing loss is permanent and can be congenital or acquired later in life. Examples of causes of sensorineural hearing loss include but are not limited to

  • infection of the mother during pregnancy
  • genetic factors and syndromes the child has at birth
  • low birthweight
  • hereditary hearing loss
  • loud noise exposure
  • trauma
  • infections
  • damage from certain medications that can be harmful to the ears

Sensorineural hearing loss is generally managed with hearing aids and occasionally therapy to assist with language development and learning. In cases of severe sensorineural hearing loss, a cochlear implant may be recommended.

What is a mixed hearing loss?

A mixed hearing loss simply means that an individual has both a conductive and a sensorineural hearing loss. A combination of medical treatment, surgery, and/or hearing aids might be appropriate for the person with a mixed hearing loss.

What happens if my child experiences hearing loss?

Treatment for hearing loss will vary depending upon the type and the cause of hearing loss. Learn more about what happens next if it has been determined that your child suffers from hearing loss.

This information is provided as a service to our patients. The information is for educational and informational purposes only and should NOT be used as a substitute for the advice of your child’s physician.