Types & Causes of Hearing Loss

It is important to determine your type of hearing loss so it can be addressed in the best possible way.

There are three types of hearing loss:

  • Sensorineural: the most common type of hearing loss
  • Conductive: results of breakdown in the mechanical transmission of sound
  • Mixed: a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss

There are more than 10 million people in the UK with some form of hearing loss, or one in six of the population. Enhancing the clarity of your hearing can make a big difference when communicating with your friends and family or even watching the television.

professional hearing test is the only way to identify your type of hearing loss, but the information below will help you understand more about the main types of hearing loss, and some of the factors that contribute to causing these hearing problems.

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Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss and occurs when the tiny hair cells of the inner ear are damaged.

Even though sound gets into the inner ear normally, the damaged hair cells are unable to "sense" and provide the required signals to the brain. In most cases the ear's hair cells that are able to sense sound are damaged. As a result, these damaged hair cells send a distorted message to the brain, making it difficult for you to hear.

Common causes of sensorineural hearing loss include:

  • age-related hearing loss – known as presbyacusis
  • injury to the inner ear caused by loud noise (acoustic trauma)
  • infections caused by viruses – these can include mumps, measles or rubella (German measles)
  • abnormal pressure in the inner ear – known as Ménière's disease
  • the effects of certain antibiotics and also aspirin and quinine, which can affect the hair cells
  • non-cancerous growths that affect the auditory nerve

Unfortunately there isn’t a medical procedure that can "reverse" sensorineural hearing loss. The loss can be helped with amplification using hearing aids, enabling the remaining hair cells to respond with maximum efficiency.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is a breakdown in the bio-mechanical transmission of sound to the brain. This is usually the result of there being an issue with the outer and/or middle ear.

Causes of conductive hearing loss can include:

  • middle ear infections
  • collection of fluid in the middle ear (known as "glue ear" in children)
  • blockage of the outer ear by wax or debris
  • damage to the eardrum by infection or an injury
  • otosclerosis, a condition in which the tiny bones of the middle ear (the ossicles) which normally move to transmit sound become immobile.

Fortunately a number of conductive hearing issues can be medically or surgically treated. If it is, it is likely that they will only require hearing aids for a short period of time while recovering. In some cases hearing aids aren’t even required. If the conductive loss of hearing can’t be treated medically, hearing aids are often successfully used to help.

Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing loss occurs when both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss are present.

There are numerous factors that can impact your hearing. The treatment will depend on the specific factors responsible for impacting your hearing. A UK Hearing Care audiologist can advise you to help determine the best way to treat your mixed hearing loss.

Understanding Hearing Loss

An audiologist can help you go beyond identifying the type of hearing loss you have. They will also take a ‘problem and solution’ approach, identifying hearing loss solutions that solve the particular issues you face. You can read more about this in the UK Hearing Care  guide to hearing solutions.

Find out more