Types of Hearing Loss

man holding a photo of his ear

The most common type of hearing loss, called sensorineural, often stems from damage to the tiny hairs that line the inner ear. These cells convert incoming sound waves into electrical signals that are then shuttled to the brain, which interprets them as meaningful sounds.

Aging and chronic exposure to loud noises are the most common causes of damage, but certain medications, illnesses, and a family history of severe hearing loss can also increase your risk.

Although it’s often not reversible, sensorineural hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids, which selectively amplify sounds, or cochlear implants, which bypass the damaged portions of the hearing system and electrically stimulate the auditory nerve.

Conductive hearing loss is less common and often occurs as a result of a physical blockage or malformation in the middle or outer ear that prevents sound waves from passing through the ear canal. Impacted earwax, fluid buildup from an infection, and a variety of disorders can cause the blockage.

Removing the blockage or, in the case of malformations, corrective surgery usually restores hearing, but if not, a hearing aid may be used.
Older adults sometimes have a mix of both types of loss.