Types of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss isn't a "one-type-fits-all" problem. Instead, three prominent types of hearing loss can impact someone's life. The type of hearing loss someone has is determined by what part of their peripheral auditory system isn't functioning normally.

The peripheral hearing system includes three primary sections. Varying problems in these sections can lead to different hearing losses. These three sections are:

  • Outer ear: pinna and ear canal

  • Middle ear: eardrum, bones of the ear, and an air-filled space

  • Inner ear: cochlea and connecting auditory nerve that leads to the central auditory system

When diagnosing hearing loss, doctors determine which of these sections contains the breakdown in functioning to correctly identify what type of hearing loss a patient has and how to address that loss accordingly.

It may be obvious, but there are normal ranges for audiometric testing. So, in theory, someone with a normal peripheral auditory system would have test results in the normal range. So what are the three types of hearing losses? Keep reading to find out!

Conductive Hearing Loss

Our peripheral auditory system converts sound waves into electrical impulses that our brain can process into meaningful information. A conductive hearing loss occurs when sound cannot move through the peripheral auditory system into the inner ear as it should. Something is blocking the transmission. Problems that could lead to a conductive hearing loss include:

  • Blockages in the outer ear like wax, dirt, and other debris

  • Issues with the eardrum or bones of the middle ear

  • Fluid or a mass in the middle ear

A significant piece of identifying conductive hearing loss is when audiograms reveal an air-bone gap. This means bone conduction scores appear in the normal range on an audiogram while air conduction scores do not.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

The inner ear is where your cochlea and auditory nerve that leads to the brain lives. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when a portion of sound transmitting through the peripheral auditory system can't make it past the inner ear. When that happens, not all sound energy gets converted into nerve impulses that your brain uses to make sense of sound. Problems that could lead to this breakdown include:

  • Noise exposure

  • Aging

  • Ototoxic medications

Audiograms for patients with sensorineural hearing loss will show bone conduction and air conduction scores that are similar or exactly the same, but they do not fall within the normal range.

Mixed Hearing Loss

Someone with mixed hearing loss simultaneously has a conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.

When diagnosing someone with mixed hearing loss, audiograms reveal higher bone conduction scores than air conduction scores (an air-bone gap), but both scores lie outside the normal range.

Do you have hearing loss?

The only way to know for sure is to have your hearing evaluated. Knowing what's happening with your hearing system helps us narrow down your options and make recommendations to help you overcome your unique challenges. So if you or someone you know is having trouble hearing, contact us today to schedule an appointment.