4 Types of Hearing Loss Explained

Penelope Woods | A Better Ear

How your ear works

When you post a letter, you know that there’s a whole transport and delivery system involved in getting that envelope from the sender to the recipient.

There’s a similar process involved in transporting and translating a sound message from your outer ear to your brain.

Your ear is an intricate system of bones, fluid, hairs and a special coil named the cochlear. Each section of your ear plays an important role in communicating and interpreting the sounds you hear.

Outer earMiddle earInner earAuditory nerve
Gathers sound waves from the environment and sends them down the ear canal to the outer layer of the eardrum, causing it to vibrate.The eardrum’s vibration set the three tiny bones of the middle ear into motion.Motion in the middle ear causes fluid in the inner ear to move. That bends the hair cells in the cochlear, which turns the sound wave into an electrical pulse that’s sent to the auditory nerve.The auditory nerve sends those electrical impulses up to the brain which interprets the sounds.

Many things can damage the delicate structures of your ear, causing 4 different types of hearing loss.

Conductive hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss happens when sound can’t get through the outer and middle ear. You might find that you can’t hear soft sounds at all and that louder sounds seem muffled.

There are many causes of conductive hearing loss including:

  • Fluid in your middle ear thanks to a cold, an allergy, or poor drainage from your Eustachian tube
  • An infection in your middle ear (otitis media) or outer ear (otitis externa or swimmer’s ear)
  • A buildup of earwax in your ear canal
  • A foreign object blocking the ear canal, like a pebble or bead (more common in children – adults have hopefully learned not to do this!)
  • An unusually formed outer or middle ear that can’t transmit sounds properly.

Treatment for conductive hearing loss depends on the cause but can include:

  • Suctioning out earwax
  • Managing allergies with antihistamines to reduce fluid buildup
  • Prescribing antibiotics to treat infection
  • Seeing an ENT surgeon to:
    • Relieve Eustachian tube dysfunction by inserting grommets
    • Treat any structural problems in your outer or middle ear.

In most cases, conductive hearing loss is temporary. Once the blockage is removed, sounds can once more be conducted through your outer and middle ear to reach your inner ear and auditory nerve.

Sensorineural hearing loss

Sensorineural hearing loss takes place in the cochlear, your organ of hearing.

Your outer and middle ears do their job but the cochlear is unable to convert sounds into a message to be sent to your brain.

This type of hearing loss can’t be reversed but can be treated. It may be caused by:

Often the damage takes place many years before the symptoms of hearing loss start to show. That’s why it’s important to protect your hearing during daily activities such as when mowing the lawn or listening to music.

The treatment for sensorineural hearing loss is amplification. We need to make the sound louder so you can hear it. The right hearing aid can help make sounds louder so that the part of your cochlear that remains healthy can pick them up and send messages on to your brain.

Another option is a cochlear implant, a device that bypasses the damaged parts of your hearing system and directly stimulates the auditory nerve.

Mixed hearing loss

As the name implies, mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive hearing loss (blockages in your outer and middle ear) and sensorineural hearing loss (permanent damage to your cochlear). It’s a double whammy: the outer ear can’t send sound properly to the inner ear and the inner ear can’t process it.

We treat mixed hearing loss by:

  • Treating the conductive element by treating infections or allergies, draining fluid or surgery.
  • Treating the sensorineural part using hearing aids or cochlear implants.

Auditory neuropathy

This type of hearing loss relates to your hearing nerve. 

Your outer ear, middle ear and inner ear (cochlear) are all doing their jobs well. They’re picking up sound, transporting it and converting it from a wave to an electrical signal. But the auditory nerve can’t send that signal to your brain.

That damage to your auditory nerve could be caused by an injury, inflammation, virus, or a benign growth like an acoustic neuroma that presses on the nerve.

Treatment for auditory neuropathy may involve:

  • A hearing aid or cochlear implant
  • A frequency modulation system
  • Training in communication skills such as lipreading.

How can A Better Ear help?

If you’re experiencing signs of hearing loss, then it’s important to see a qualified audiologist for a proper hearing assessment as soon as possible.

A Better Ear takes a refreshingly different approach to supporting your hearing health. We’re a completely independent clinic, not affiliated with any hearing device companies. We’re not here to meet sales targets – we’re here to give you the best care possible in a supportive environment. If you’d like help to understand your hearing, then please make an appointment. We’re keen to meet you.

All information is general in nature.