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Types of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss affects people differently.

Different types of hearing loss

Some types of hearing loss are permanent while others are temporary.
Hearing loss may impact just one ear for some. For others, it may only be noticeable for low- or high-frequency sounds. By knowing your type of hearing loss, you can better pinpoint the right treatment for you. While the terms “hearing loss” or “hypoacusis” are often used in a general way to describe a reduced ability to hear or understand sounds and speech, auditory impairments can be separated into three distinct categories.


Brian Hill

Brian Hill, MS, MBA, CCC/A, FAAA

Audiologist, Director of Professional Services and Training

What is sensorineural hearing loss?

The most common category of hearing loss to affect otherwise healthy adults is sensorineural hearing loss. It occurs when there is a problem with the functioning either of the inner ear, or the hearing nerve pathways that connect the inner ear to the brain―such as auditory nerve damage. 

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Sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible and permanent, and is caused by factors such as aging, infections, or exposure to loud noise. It is most often treated with hearing aids, as medical or surgical treatments are usually not viable options. Miracle-Ear hearing professionals are experienced at treating this type of hearing loss.

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What is conductive hearing loss?

The difference between sensorineural vs. conductive hearing loss largely refers to what part of the ear’s anatomy is affected. Namely, conductive hearing loss is caused by problems with outer or middle ear. As suggested by its name, with this type of hearing loss, sound is not conducted or transmitted effectively through the middle ear and eardrum, meaning that the sound that reaches the inner ear and the hearing nerves is reduced in intensity. 

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Because its causes are often physical in nature (such as a perforated eardrum, fluid in the middle ear or wax in the ear canal), it can often be treated with medical or surgical techniques.

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What is mixed hearing loss?

Mixed hearing loss, the third and final type of hearing loss, arises when both sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss occur together, meaning that both the inner ear and the outer or middle ear may be damaged. 

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A person with mixed hearing loss can successfully have the conductive problem treated, which can minimize the degree of hearing loss somewhat, but he or she may still require hearing aids to compensate for the permanent sensorineural loss.

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Bilateral and unilateral hearing loss

Bilateral means hearing loss in both ears, whereas unilateral means hearing loss in one ear. In general, most people have one ear that hears better than the other. If hearing loss is present in both ears and seems to be of the same severity, this is referred to as symmetrical bilateral hearing loss. 

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If hearing loss is present in both ears but at varying severity, this is called asymmetrical bilateral hearing loss. Bilateral and unilateral hearing loss can both be caused by the same things, such as exposure to loud noise or ototoxic medications.

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Low and high frequency hearing loss

Low frequency hearing loss impacts the deeper pitches, typically 2,000 Hz and below. People can often understand speech fairly well with a low frequency hearing loss. People with high frequency hearing loss, on the other hand, have trouble hearing sounds in the 2,000 to 8,000 Hz range.

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High frequency hearing loss means it's more difficult to understand speech, particularly the voices of women children. Get more information on how hearing loss is measured to more fully understand how frequency impacts hearing. 

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