The Three Main Types of Hearing Loss and How to Identify Them

Hearing loss can be a difficult condition to live with, whether it’s you or one of your loved ones who is affected. There are three main types of hearing loss you should know about so you can get the right treatment.

If you or someone you know has hearing loss, you’re not alone. To some degree, hearing loss affects 20% of Americans. Nearly 15% of children that are school-age suffer from hearing loss.

To help you better understand hearing loss, we’ve explained types of hearing loss, causes, and treatments. Read on to learn more.


This permanent hearing loss is the most common type. It is caused by damage to the inner ear’s hair-like cells or damage to the auditory nerve.

Nerve signals received by these cells and the auditory nerve carry information about clarity and volume of sounds to the brain. Damage weakens or prevents the transmission of these nerve signals.

When children are born with this type, it’s generally caused by:

  • a genetic syndrome
  • an infection transmitted in utero, such as herpes, rubella, or toxoplasmosis

If hearing loss is developed later, there can be a great number of causes, including:

  • Trauma
  • Heavy noise exposure
  • Infections
  • Auto-immune disease
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Medicine side effects
  • Cancer
  • Age-related deterioration

With sensorineural hearing loss, your ability to process the clarity and volume (loudness) of sounds is affected. Symptoms may include:

  • Particular speech sounds may be difficult to detect during conversations
  • Higher pitched voices, like those of women and children, are hard to hear
  • Others’ speech may seem muffled or slurred
  • Buzzing or ringing in the ears, a condition called tinnitus
  • Dizziness

Cochlear implants and hearing aids are used to treat this type of hearing loss. Additionally, listening devices can be used for assistance, such as captioned phones, vibrating alarm clocks, and other devices.


This type of hearing loss occurs when there is a blockage or damage to the middle or outer ear that prevents sound conduction to the inner ear.

Depending on the cause, this may be permanent or temporary.

Conductive hearing loss causes from an affected outer ear include:

  • Ear canal narrowing or hardening
  • Foreign bodies inserted inside ear
  • Swimmer’s ear
  • Bone-like protrusions in the ear canal called exostoses
  • Impacted wax

Causes from an affected middle ear include:

  • A compromised eardrum (tympanic membrane) caused by infections, injury, or rapid pressure changes
  • Eustachian tube blockages
  • Tumors or other abnormal growths within middle ear
  • A break in the connections between middle ear bones, usually from injury
  • Fluid buildup (otitis media)
  • Tympanic membrane thickening

This type generally affects sound volume. Symptoms include:

  • Better hearing out of one ear
  • Feeling of pressure in one or both ears
  • Bad smell coming from the ear canal
  • Sense that one’s voice sounds altered

When there is an infection or blockage, medical treatment is advised. Problems with bones and other issues may require surgery, implants, or hearing aids.


This type is a combination of the types of hearing loss described above.

It’s generally caused by injury and is especially apparent when it worsens previous hearing loss. Symptoms can be a combination of those that usually indicate sensorineural or conductive hearing loss.

Treatments for mixed hearing loss will vary depending on whether the loss is more conductive or sensorineural.


It’s important to know what type of hearing loss you’re facing. Treatments can vary greatly depending on the cause of your condition.

If you’re looking for answers, explore our blog or contact us for more information on hearing loss and treatments.