Types of Hearing Loss

Learn about some of the common types of hearing loss, their causes, and their degrees.

Types of Hearing Loss

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss is mechanical. Essentially, this means that something — usually a physical condition or disease — is preventing sound from being conducted from the outer or middle ear to the inner ear, where nerves are stimulated to carry sound to the brain.

The causes of conductive hearing loss can often be identified and treated. They include fluid or wax build up in the ears, an ear infection, a foreign object lodged in the ear, a ruptured ear drum, or malformations of the ear. 

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural Hearing Loss occurs when there is a problem with the sensory and/or neural structures in the cochlea (the inner ear).

Causes include aging, exposure to loud noises, certain illnesses and medications, genetics, and trauma.

While sensorineural hearing loss is almost always permanent, most people who have it can benefit from hearing aids.

Mixed Hearing Loss

As you might expect, mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. This means there is damage in the outer or middle ear and in the inner ear at the same time. This type of hearing loss ranges in severity from mild to profound.

Other Common Conditions

Tinnitus

Tinnitus is often a symptom of hearing loss, but it is possible to have tinnitus with normal hearing as well. Tinnitus is the perception of sound in a person’s ears, usually ringing, humming, or buzzing, that has no external source.

Tinnitus is usually the result of prolonged exposure to loud noises, and although there is no cure, there is a wide variety of techniques and hearing appliances that can reduce the symptoms.

Auditory Processing Disorders

Those with auditory processing disorders have normal hearing, but there is a disconnect between what is heard, and what the brain understands.

The brain has difficulty processing the information contained in sound, including understanding speech, and identifying where it comes from.

There is no known cause of auditory processing disorders, but there are many management strategies that can help.


Degrees of Hearing Loss

Mild

Hearing Loss Range: 26 - 40 decibels

Sounds that fall into this range include whispering, rustling leaves, and the hum of appliances.

People with mild hearing loss tend to have difficulty hearing soft environmental sounds and some conversations, particularly in large group settings, louder environments, at a distance, or on the phone.

Moderate

Hearing Loss Range: 41 - 60 decibels

Sounds that fall into this range include light traffic, conversational speech, and quiet office sounds.

Those with moderate hearing loss often struggle to keep up with regular conversation without the use of hearing aids or other assistive listening devices, even in quieter settings.

Severe

Hearing Loss Range: 61 - 80 decibels

Sounds in this decibel range include most vacuum cleaners and hair dryers, as well as garbage disposals.

People with severe hearing loss will have trouble following most conversations, and would likely even have trouble hearing loud speech, without a hearing aid or another form of amplification.

Profound

Hearing Loss Range: 81+ decibels

Sounds that fall into this decibel range include lawn mowers, blenders, and motorcycles at a moderate distance.

Those with profound hearing loss cannot hear any speech at all, and only the loudest of sounds, even with hearing aids. As a result, they often rely on lip-reading and/or sign language to communicate.


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Read our FAQs for answers to our most common questions about hearing health.

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