Hearing loss can be categorized by where or what part of the auditory system is damaged. There are three basic types of hearing loss: conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss and mixed hearing loss.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound is not conducted efficiently through the outer ear canal to the eardrum and the tiny bones, or ossicles, of the middle ear. Conductive hearing loss usually involves a reduction in sound level, or the ability to hear faint sounds. This type of hearing loss can often be medically or surgically corrected.
Examples of conditions that may cause a conductive hearing loss include:
- Conditions associated with middle ear pathology such as fluid in the middle ear from colds, allergies (serous otitis media), poor eustachian tube function, ear infection (otitis media), perforated eardrum, benign tumors
- Impacted earwax (cerumen)
- Infection in the ear canal (external otitis)
- Presence of a foreign body
- Absence or malformation of the outer ear, ear canal, or middle ear
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear (cochlea) or to the nerve pathways from the inner ear (retrocochlear) to the brain. Sensorineural hearing loss cannot be medically or surgically corrected. It is a permanent loss.
Sensorineural hearing loss not only involves a reduction in sound level, or ability to hear faint sounds, but also affects speech understanding, or ability to hear clearly.
Sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by diseases, birth injury, drugs that are toxic to the auditory system, and genetic syndromes. Sensorineural hearing loss may also occur as a result of noise exposure, viruses, head trauma, aging, and tumors.
Mixed Hearing Loss
Sometimes a conductive hearing loss occurs in combination with a sensorineural hearing loss. In other words, there may be damage in the outer or middle ear and in the inner ear (cochlea) or auditory nerve. When this occurs, the hearing loss is referred to as a mixed hearing loss.