What Are the 6 Types of Hearing Problems?

Medically Reviewed on 1/11/2023
Anatomy of the ear
Anatomy of the ear

Hearing loss is a reduction in the ability to hear sounds. It can affect one or both ears and ranges from mild to severe. People who experience hearing loss may have trouble hearing high-pitched noises and interpreting spoken words, especially in busy surroundings.

Hearing loss can either be congenital (present at birth) or acquired later in life due to various causes or exposure to risk factors. Genetics, aging, exposure to loud noises, certain drugs, and specific medical problems are just a few of the causes of hearing loss. 

There are several types of hearing loss, which can be categorized based on the cause and severity of the loss. The following are the four types of hearing loss:

  1. Conductive hearing loss
    • Occurs when there is a problem with the outer or middle ear, which prevents sound from being conducted effectively to the inner ear.
    • The causes of conductive hearing loss can include a buildup of earwax, a middle ear infection, a perforated eardrum, fluid in the eustachian tube that prevents the movement of the eardrum, or a structural abnormality of the ear.
    • Most cases of conductive hearing loss are treatable and typically go away fast.
    • In some cases, surgery or a hearing aid may be advised to help address the issue.
  2. Sensorineural hearing loss
    • Caused by damage to the sensory hair cells in the inner ear or to the auditory nerve, which stops sound impulses from reaching the brain.
    • It can be caused by exposure to loud noises, certain medications, diseases, hereditary factors, or aging.
    • Often referred to as nerve deafness or retrocochlear hearing loss, it is usually permanent and cannot be corrected medically or surgically.
    • However, with advancements in medicine and technology, some incurable conditions can now be improved.
    • Most people with this kind of hearing loss may get by with hearing aids, but in more severe situations, a cochlear implant may be able to help those who can't hear well enough with a regular hearing aid.
  3. Central hearing loss
    • Caused by damage to the brain or auditory processing centers rather than to the ear itself. 
    • The central nervous system prevents the brain from processing sound information.
    • Those affected appear to hear quite well, yet they are unable to understand or interpret what is being spoken.
    • They even have difficulty filtering and competing for sounds in the background, such as street traffic, and they find it hard to converse in such instances.
    • It can be caused by a brain injury, stroke, or other neurological conditions.
  4. Mixed hearing loss
    • Caused by a combination of various other types of hearing loss.
    • The most common combination is the presence of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
    • It occurs when there is a problem with both the outer or middle ear and the inner ear or auditory nerve.
  5. Functional hearing loss
    • Is uncommon and cannot be explained by an organic cause.
    • It is a condition when a person's physical hearing is normal, but they are unable to hear due to psychological or emotional issues.
  6. Temporary hearing loss
    • Is not permanent and can be caused by a variety of factors, such as exposure to loud noises, certain medications, or a middle ear infection.

What are the early signs and symptoms of hearing damage?

The symptoms of hearing loss can vary depending on the severity and the type of hearing
Three early signs of hearing damage include

  1. Difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds: High-frequency hearing loss occurs when you cannot hear sounds at higher frequencies, such as 2,000 Hz or higher. This is one of the earliest signs of hearing damage and is often caused by damage to the hair cells in the inner ear. These cells convert sound waves into electrical signals that the brain can interpret. When damaged, they can no longer respond to high-frequency sounds, making it difficult for a person to hear certain sounds.
  2. Tinnitus (ringing in the ears): Characterized as a ringing, buzzing, or whistling sound in the ears that are not caused by an external source. It can be a symptom of damage to the auditory nerve or inner ear and is often associated with exposure to loud noise or certain medications. In some cases, tinnitus can be temporary and go away on its own, but in other cases, it can be a chronic condition that lasts months or even years. 
  3. Gradual loss of hearing ability over time: Occurs over a long period and is often caused by prolonged exposure to loud noise. Age-related can also cause changes in the inner ear. People with this symptom may have difficulty hearing in noisy environments or need to turn up the volume on their television or radio. They may find themselves repeating or misinterpreting the words of others.

Some common signs and symptoms of hearing loss include

  • Difficulty hearing or understanding spoken words, especially in noisy environments or echoing spaces
  • Asking people to repeat themselves frequently
  • Difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds, such as the doorbell or phone ring
  • Muffled speech
  • Turning up the volume on the television or radio excessively
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Refraining from conversations
  • Avoidance of social gatherings


What is hearing loss? See Answer

What are the causes and risk factors for hearing loss?

Hearing loss may be caused because of multiple factors. The following are 10 common causes:

  1. Aging
    • Hearing loss can be age-related, which is also known as presbycusis.
    • It can develop because of deteriorated or damaged inner ear hair cells.
  2. Noise exposure
    • Prolonged exposure to loud noises can harm the inner ear's hair cells and cause hearing loss.
    • People who work in noisy environments, such as construction or manufacturing, may be at a higher risk of hearing loss due to prolonged exposure to loud noises.
    • Participating in loud sporting events or concerts or using loud gear or power tools can cause hearing loss.
  3. Family history
    • Hearing loss may run in families and be passed down from one generation to the next, so having a family history of hearing loss increases the risk.
  4. Certain medications
    • Can have hearing loss as a side effect, including some antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
  5. Medical conditions
    • Several diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, and autoimmune diseases, may increase the risk of hearing loss.
  6. Infections
    • Otitis externa is an infection of the outer ear and otitis media is an infection of the middle ear.
    • If such infections are left untreated, they can result in either temporary or permanent hearing loss.
  7. Trauma
    • Head injuries or ear trauma may rupture the eardrum, which can lead to hearing loss.
  8. Structural abnormalities
    • Hearing loss may result from structural abnormalities of the ear, such as malformations of the inner ear or blockages in the ear canal.
    • Abnormal bone growth or tumors may cause conductive hearing loss.
  9. Smoking
    • Due to the harmful effects of nicotine and other substances on the auditory system, smoking can increase the risk of hearing loss.
  10. Ethnicity
    • Researchers have found that certain racial and ethnic groups, including Native Americans and African Americans, are at a higher risk of developing hearing loss.

How is hearing loss diagnosed?

If you present to your doctor with a complaint of hearing loss, they would note down your complete medical history and family history and may ask you questions regarding your occupational surroundings and possible exposure to loud noises.

Various tests can evaluate your hearing and determine the cause and severity of your hearing loss. These tests include

Audiometric test

  • This is a hearing test that can determine the softest sounds that you can hear at different frequencies.
  • You will be asked to sit in a special room and provided with headphones.
  • As you put on the headphones, you will hear a variety of tones with varying levels and pitches.
  • You are asked to make a signal when you hear a sound.
  • The results appear on an audiogram, which displays the softest sounds you can hear at various frequencies.

Speech recognition test

  • This test evaluates your comprehension of spoken words. 
  • You will be asked to repeat a series of words spoken by the person administering the test.


  • This examination assesses how the eardrum responds to variations in atmospheric pressure. 
  • It can assist in finding out a potential middle ears issue, such as a fluid buildup or a structural anomaly.

Auditory brainstem response test

  • This test assesses the brain's response to sound.
  • A series of clicks or tones are heard through headphones while electrodes are put on the skull. 
  • The brain's reaction to the noises is measured by the electrodes.
  • The auditory nerve and brainstem function can be evaluated with this test.

Radiological imaging techniques, such as CT and MRI, can detect structural anomalies such as boney growths or tumors, which contribute to conductive hearing loss.

What are the treatment options for hearing loss?

There are several treatment options for hearing loss, and the appropriate treatment will depend on the cause and severity of the loss.

The six most common treatment options include

  1. Hearing aids
    • Hearing aids are discreet, behind-the-ear electrical devices that amplify sound.
    • They can aid those with mild to severe hearing loss in hearing better. 
    • Hearing aids can be worn behind the ear, in the ear, in the canal, or completely in the canal.
  2. Cochlear implants
    • Surgically inserted electronic devices that help people with severe to profound hearing loss hear better. 
    • Sound waves are transformed into electrical signals, which are then sent straight to the auditory nerve, which is directed to the auditory process center in the brain.
  3. Assistive listening devices
    • These include amplified phones and personal listening devices that can improve hearing during certain instances, such as using the phone or watching television.
  4. Surgery
    • Maybe an option to remove an obstruction from the ear such as a tumor or to treat a structural problem.
  5. Communication strategies
    • People with hearing loss may benefit from employing communication techniques to understand spoken words, such as lip reading, sign language, or written communication.
  6. Educational and support services
    • These services can assist people with hearing loss in learning to communicate effectively and adjusting to the difficulties of their condition. 
    • Some of these services include audiology and speech-language therapy.

Subscribe to MedicineNet's General Health Newsletter

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

Can you prevent hearing loss?

Certain conditions causing hearing loss such as age-related or hereditary factors cannot be prevented. However, following certain preventive measures can either help prevent hearing loss or reduce the risk and delay the onset of hearing loss.

The following six steps can help prevent hearing loss:

  1. Protect your ears from loud noises
    • Hearing loss can be prevented by limiting your exposure to or avoiding loud noises.
    • If avoiding is not an option, then wear earplugs or noise-canceling headphones, which can help protect your ears from loud noises, which may harm your hearing.
  2. Regular evaluation of your hearing
    • Regular hearing checkups can help detect hearing loss early, enabling you to take action to stop further loss.
  3. Quit smoking
    • Nicotine is noted to cause detrimental effects on the auditory system and increase the risk of hearing loss.
    • Quitting smoking is the best solution to reduce your risk of hearing loss.
  4. Avoid certain medications
    • Medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and some antibiotics can induce hearing loss as a side effect.
    • It is crucial to discuss the potential hazards and possible alternatives with your doctor before taking these drugs.
  5. Get vaccinated
    • Infections such as measles and mumps can cause hearing loss.
    • Getting immunized can lower the chance of hearing loss and help protect against these illnesses.
  6. Maintain a healthy lifestyle
    • Eating right, working out frequently, and controlling stress can help you avoid health issues such as hearing loss.
Medically Reviewed on 1/11/2023
The Four Types of Hearing Loss: https://www.cchatsacramento.org/blog-and-events/the-four-types-of-hearing-loss

Hearing Loss: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hearing-loss/symptoms-causes/syc-20373072

Diagnosing Hearing Loss: https://nyulangone.org/conditions/hearing-loss/diagnosis