Hearing Loss Types

The type of hearing loss you have depends on what part of your hearing is damaged. There are three basic types of hearing loss:

Conductive Hearing Loss

Your ear is made up of three parts— the outer, the middle, and the inner ear. A conductive hearing loss happens when sounds cannot get through the outer and middle ear. It may be hard to hear soft sounds. Louder sounds may be muffled.

Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss

This type of hearing loss can be caused by the following:

  • Fluid in your middle ear from colds or allergies.

  • Ear infection, or otitis media. Otitis is a term used to mean ear infection, and media means middle.

  • Poor Eustachian tube function. The Eustachian tube connects your middle ear and your nose. Fluid in the middle ear can drain out through this tube. Fluid can stay in the middle ear if the tube does not work correctly.

  • A hole in your eardrum.

  • Benign tumors. These tumors are not cancer but can block the outer or middle ear.

  • Earwax , or cerumen, stuck in your ear canal.

  • Infection in the ear canal, called external otitis. You may hear this called swimmer’s ear.

  • An object stuck in your outer ear. An example might be if your child put a pebble in his ear when playing outside.

  • A problem with how the outer or middle ear is formed. Some people are born without an outer ear. Some may have a deformed ear canal or have a problem with the bones in their middle ear.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Your ear is made up of three parts— the outer, the middle, and the inner ear. Sensorineural hearing loss, or SNHL, happens after inner ear damage. Problems with the nerve pathways from your inner ear to your brain can also cause SNHL. Soft sounds may be hard to hear. Even louder sounds may be unclear or may sound muffled.

This is the most common type of permanent hearing loss. Most of the time, medicine or surgery cannot fix SNHL. Hearing aids may help you hear.

Causes of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

This type of hearing loss can be caused by the following things:

  • Illnesses.

  • Drugs that are toxic to hearing.

  • Hearing loss that runs in the family.

  • Aging.

  • A blow to the head.

  • A problem in the way the inner ear is formed.

  • Listening to loud noises or explosions.

Mixed Hearing Loss

Sometimes, a conductive hearing loss happens at the same time as a sensorineural hearing loss, or SNHL. This means that there may be damage in the outer or middle ear and in the inner ear or nerve pathway to the brain. This is a mixed hearing loss.

Causes of Mixed Hearing Loss

Anything that causes a conductive hearing loss or SNHL can lead to a mixed hearing loss. An example would be if you have a hearing loss because you work around loud noises and you have fluid in your middle ear. The two together might make your hearing worse than it would be with only one problem.

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