Types of hearing loss

Hearing impairment and related conditions

The ear is the organ responsible for hearing and balance.

The unique mechanisms in the ear and brain are able to transform sound waves into meaningful sounds such as speech. Just as there are a number of possible hearing loss causes, there are also various types of hearing loss. Hearing loss can affect one or both ears, and can be caused by a number of factors.

There are three main types of hearing loss

There are three main types of hearing loss: sensorineural hearing loss, conductive hearing loss and mixed hearing loss.

Sensorineural hearing loss

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there has been damage to the inner ear or the nerve that connects the ear to the brain. It can be either congenital (present at birth) or an acquired condition. This is the most common type of hearing loss, and is the type that occurs as a result of age-related changes and noise damage.

Conductive hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss is a condition where sounds are blocked from entering the inner ear via the outer or middle ear. The condition can have a variety of causes, such as ear infections or, trauma such as a burst ear drum.

Mixed hearing loss

Mixed hearing loss is a condition where hearing loss is due to conditions affecting the outer/middle and inner ear. It is a combination of conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss.

Other types of hearing loss

There are many other types of hearing loss you can experience, including:

  1. Noise induced hearing loss - Noise induced hearing loss occurs when the structures of the inner ear, are damaged by noise that is beyond safe levels. It may be the result of an intense one-off exposure or prolonged exposure. Noise induced hearing loss may be gradual, permanent or temporary. If you have worked in a noisy environment and have noise induced hearing loss you may be eligible for ACC funding.

  2. High frequency hearing loss - High frequency hearing loss is where people have trouble hearing sounds between 2,000 and 8,000 Hertz. The condition often occurs when there is damage to the cells within the cochlea from noise, aging, genetics, noise exposure, illness or other environmental factors.

  3. Unilateral hearing loss - Unilateral hearing loss is found in only one ear, with the other ear generally unaffected. It may be congenital or acquired at any point in a person’s life, with the degree of hearing loss ranging from mild to profound.

  4. Hearing loss after ear infection - Hearing loss after an ear infection may or may not be permanent, depending on the severity of the infection. An ear infection is a form of conductive hearing loss, but it can have a lasting impact on hearing if left untreated.

Different degrees of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can occur in many forms at varying degrees of severity. Your level of hearing generally falls into one of four categories; mild, moderate, severe or profound. You may have different levels of hearing loss in each ear. See the below table to learn more about the different degrees of hearing:

Mild Hearing Loss

May only notice increased difficulty hearing in situations of background noise.

Difficulty hearing softly spoken people or children, or soft sounds in the environment such as your footsteps or your clothes rustling.

Can hear loud vowel sounds but may miss soft consonant sounds.

Moderate Hearing Loss

Significant difficulty hearing softly spoken people, missing a range of environmental sounds such as the telephone ringing. 

Can miss consonant sounds, and vowel sounds are more difficult to hear. As a result, speech sounds unclear or mumbled.

Friends and family may be commenting on your hearing.

Severe Hearing Loss

Significant difficulty hearing speech at any level, and nearly all environmental sounds are inaudible. 

May be consciously or subconsciously relying on lip-reading to help with communication

Hearing aids are necessary to understand speech, but you are still likely to have difficulty in background noise.


Profound Hearing Loss

Unable to hear very loud sounds like aeroplane engines, traffic or fire alarms.

Even with hearing aids, speech may be difficult to understand if the speaker is not facing you and speaking clearly in a quiet environment.

A man and a woman at a Bay Audiology clinic

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