Types of Hearing Loss


Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive Hearing Loss occurs in the outer and/or middle ear. Common causes related to the…

Outer Ear include earwax or foreign objects blocking the ear canal, skin infections (e.g. “swimmers ear”), and deformity of the outer ear or ear canal.

Middle Ear include perforated eardrum, infection of the middle ear cavity resulting in fluid filling the normally air-filled space, and calcification or breakage of the bones of the middle ear.

In most cases, Conductive Hearing Loss can be treated medically (usually through the use of prescriptive medications or surgery). In some cases, Conductive Hearing Loss cannot be treated medically, but can be improved through the use of hearing aids/assistive listening devices.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural Hearing Loss occurs in the inner ear within the cochlea and/or the hearing (VIII/8th) nerve. If the hair cells within the cochlea become damaged, then we lose the ability to hear at soft and normal sound levels. And in many cases, we also lose the ability to distinguish sounds resulting in difficulty understanding speech.

Common causes of Sensorineural Hearing Loss include but are not limited to:

  • the natural aging process
  • genetics
  • noise exposure
  • medications (certain drugs can be toxic to the inner ear)
  • birth defects
  • certain virus’ and infections

Over 90% of all hearing loss is Sensorineural and cannot be treated through medication or surgery. However, in most cases, individuals with Sensorineural Hearing Loss can be helped significantly through the use of amplification systems (hearing aids and/or assistive listening devices). 

Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed Hearing Loss is a combination of conductive superimposed over sensorineural hearing loss.  Often, this combination results in a severe or even profound degree of hearing loss.

Degrees of Hearing Loss

Mild Hearing Loss

Difficulty hearing soft speech and some conversations. Difficulty is worsened in the presence of any background or interfering noise and in small to large groups of people. Minimal or no difficulty in quiet environments with one or two people.

Moderate Hearing Loss

Hearing of soft speech is limited and difficulty understanding conversational speech — especially when there is background or interfering noise. Higher volume levels are required for hearing TV, radio and telephone.

Moderately-Severe Hearing Loss

Clarity (understanding) of normal speech is significantly affected. Speech must be loud and hearing in group conversations is significantly limited.

Severe Hearing Loss

Normal conversational speech is not heard or understood. In most cases, significant difficulty with loud speech. Often the individual will understand shouted or amplified speech.

Profound Hearing Loss

Unable to clearly understand even amplified speech. Very loud environmental sounds are sometimes barely heard.

Hearing Loss & Understanding Speech

Speech (soft to loud) is the most important sound that we hear everyday. Speech is made up of vowels (a, e, i, o, u) and consonants (for example, s, t, n, d, f, ch). Vowel sounds are lower in pitch and louder in volume. Consonant sounds are higher in pitch and softer in volume (especially female voices).

All types of hearing loss affect an individuals’ ability to hear and understand conversational sounds. Hearing loss often initially affects those higher pitched consonant sounds. These sounds (s, f, v, sh, th, ch) play a key role in distinguishing words and understanding speech clearly. Many individuals with hearing loss will report: “I hear people talking but I don’t understand what is being said.”

Warning signs of hearing loss

If you, family members, friends, or loved ones have experienced any of the following, please have your hearing tested by a hearing healthcare professional:

  • Can hear but do not understand
  • Have difficulty hearing in restaurants and/or places of worship
  • Frequently ask people to repeat themselves
  • Look at people’s faces to assist in understanding conversations
  • Turn up the volume of the TV and/or radio
  • Feel that everyone mumbles or doesn’t speak clearly

Hearing Loss also Effects Family and Friends

Support and consideration from friends and family is a major help to someone who is getting used to wearing hearing aids.

Hearing loss is invisible, and in many cases, occurs gradually over many years. But any degree of hearing loss has an affect on the people around us.

Friends and family members should not avoid conversations with those with hearing loss. This is a new day, and it is time to enjoy better communication!

Conversing with Someone Who has Hearing Loss

1. Use Clear Speech

Pay attention to making each speech sound fully formed without missing parts or dropping word endings. Do not shout — this causes speech to distort and often will become uncomfortable to a person with a hearing impairment. When you say words and sentences in a precise, accurate, and fully formed manner, a person with hearing loss can better follow a conversation, resulting in less frustration for everyone.

2. Improve the Communication Environment

Get closer: the ideal distance for normal conversation is approximately 3 feet. Do not try to communicate from another room unless it is necessary. If possible, move away from the background noise and towards the hearing impaired person. Don’t try to have a conversation in rooms with numerous noises. Turn down the volume of competing noise — do not try to talk “over” the TV or radio. When possible, choose quieter restaurants. If someone with “good” hearing has difficulty hearing in a restaurant, a person with hearing loss will have even more difficulty there.

3. Use Better Communication Skills

Face the person who has a hearing loss when speaking. Make sure the listener can see your face and lips — visual cues are very helpful to understanding with hearing aids. Keep your hands away from your mouth. Periodically cue the topic: “We’re talking about…” This will help fill in the blanks for things that cannot be heard.

4. Talk TO the Person, Not “Around Them”

Listen carefully, and be encouraging to the person with hearing loss as communication starts to improve. Do not talk to the spouse, partner, family member or friend instead of the person who has a hearing loss. Talk to the person, not “around” them. Be courteous to the feelings of the person with hearing loss. Do not be patronizing — hearing loss has nothing to do with lower intelligence.