There are different types of hearing loss depending on which part of the hearing system is affected. During a diagnostic hearing exam, the doctor locates which part of the hearing system is damaged. The location or type of hearing loss is important in determining the appropriate treatment.
Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss. Most hearing aid wearers have sensorineural hearing loss. The most common causes of sensorineural hearing loss are genetic conditions, age-related changes, and damage from noise exposure. Sensorineural hearing loss may also be called "inner ear damage" or "cochlear hearing loss". Sensorineural hearing loss was previously referred to as "nerve loss". However, this term is no longer used as we know medically that most patients with this hearing loss have damage in the sensory part of the inner ear, not the hearing nerve itself.
People with sensorineural hearing loss typically report they can hear people speaking, but cannot understand what is being said. People with sensorineural hearing loss may also feel as though everyone mumbles. They may have difficulty in school or work. They also usually hear better in quiet places and may have difficulty understanding what is said over the telephone. There are many excellent treatment options for patients with sensorineural hearing loss. Patients with sensorineural hearing loss are typically treated with hearing aids.
Conductive hearing loss occurs when conditions such as fluid, infection, perforation of the eardrum, earwax, ear cysts (cholesteatoma), dislocation of the earbones, or bony scarring of the third ear bone (otosclerosis) are present. This type of hearing loss can be successfully treated and resolved in many cases. In patients where it cannot be resolved, hearing aid treatment is often preferred.
When a patient has both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss, a mixed hearing loss is present. Examples would include a child born with sensorineural hearing loss who also has an ear infection.
A central hearing loss occurs when a person has normal hearing but his or her brain cannot accurately process sound. This type of hearing loss is also called auditory processing disorder (APD). Central hearing loss is diagnosed following a series of specialized exams that focus on the ability of the brain to listen and respond to sound (rather than just to hear the presence of sound). This condition often affects school-aged children and may be misdiagnosed as ADD/ADHD or a learning disorder. Treatment involves sound systems, sound rehabilitation, and communication therapy.