Hearing Loss Types, Causes, and Treatments

Hearing loss is classified based on which part of the hearing system is damaged. There are three basic types: conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, and mixed hearing loss. Each type is caused by different issues,  some of which can be treated medicinally or surgically, others are only managed with hearing aids. Below we have laid out the three types of hearing loss along with possible causes and treatment.

1. Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss is typically caused by problems with the ear canal, eardrum, or middle ear bones This type of hearing loss is usually treatable with medicine or surgery. Repeated ear infections are the most common cause and can usually be treated with antibiotics. Surgery can repair issues with the eardrum or the three middle ear bones.

Possible causes:

  • Fluid in the middle ear
  • Ear infection
  • Allergies
  • Perforated eardrum
  • Benign tumors
  • Impacted earwax
  • Infection in the ear canal
  • Swimmer’s ear
  • Poor Eustachian tube function
  • Foreign body in ear
  • Otosclerosis
  • Absence of malformation of the outer ear, ear canal, or middle ear

2. Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) is due to problems with the inner ear. It commonly called “nerve hearing loss” and occurs when there is damage to the inner ear or to the nerve pathways that connect the inner ear to the brain.

Sensorineural hearing loss affects the clarity of sounds and creates the issue of “I can hear your voice but I don’t understand what you’re saying”.

Almost all sensorineural hearing loss can be improved by amplifying the deficient sounds with hearing aids. These are programmed to compensate for only the sound frequencies that you have lost and are programmed for your specific hearing loss contour.

SNHL due to sudden and brief exposure to loud noise may respond to medical therapy with corticosteroids. Tumors along the acoustic or facial nerve can cause SNHL and need to be managed by a ear and brain surgeon. Some hearing may be preserved through surgery.

Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss and responds very well to hearing aids. When hearing aids are not enough, this type of hearing loss could be surgically treated with cochlear implants.

Possible causes:

  • Illnesses/Viruses/Disease
  • Drugs that are toxic to hearing
  • Hearing loss that runs in the family
  • Aging
  • Head trauma
  • Malformation of the inner ear
  • Exposure to loud noise
  • Meniere’s Disease
  • Otoclerosis
  • Tumors

3. Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. This means that damage could be done to both the outer or middle ear AND the inner ear or auditory nerve.

The conductive component may be treatable with medical treatment, but the sensorineural component will most likely be permanent. Hearing aids can definitely be beneficial to those with mixed hearing loss, but the cause of the conductive component should first be identified and treated especially if it is due to an active ear infection.


Your examination and complete hearing evaluation with our audiologists Dr. Mills and Dr. Nichols will uncover what type of hearing loss you may have. We can then recommend the best possible way to manage your hearing situation.

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