Types of Hearing Loss and Degrees of Severity

From person to person, hearing loss can vary by type, cause, and degree of severity.

Depending on the type and severity of your hearing impairment, treatment plans and processes with differ slightly. Understanding the possible types of hearing loss as well as their causes can help you to better understand your own hearing impairment. In general, there are three main types of hearing loss: sensorineural, conductive, and mixed. There are also four agreed upon levels of hearing loss severity: mild, moderate, severe and profound. All four degrees of severity can be found in most types of hearing loss.

Picture of inside the ear to show the areas where hearing loss occurs

Types of Hearing Loss

Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss is more of an issue of physical blockage than sensorineural hearing loss. This type if hearing loss occurs when sound is actually unable to pass through the middle ear and into the inner ear. With this type of hearing loss, much of the sound is lost before it even has time to reach the hair cells or brain for processing. There are many reasons one may suffer from conductive hearing loss. Some of the most common are excess earwax buildup, a birth defect called Otosclerosis, ear infections, fluid buildup or a punctured eardrum.

Mixed Hearing Loss
Many people end up with mixed hearing loss, which simply means they suffer from some combination of sensorineural as well as conductive hearing loss. In this case, a person would have a blockage in their middle ear that disallows sounds from passing through into the inner ear, and the hair cells within the inner ear will also be damaged and unable to properly transmit this information to the brain.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type, affecting 90% of hearing aid users. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the delicate cells (called hair cells) located in the inner ear become damaged or destroyed. These tiny cells are responsible for picking up sounds in the environment and turning them into electric signals to be sent to the brain for processing. Your brain then takes these signals and interprets them as recognizable noises. When these cells become damaged, the signals we need to understand sounds are not properly sent to our brain - thus impairing our ability to hear. There are many ways people end up with sensorineural hearing loss, however, the most common are natural aging and exposure to excessive noises. The other causes of this type of hearing loss are taking drugs that are ototoxic, head injuries and diseases such as mumps, meningitis, multiple sclerosis or Ménière's disease. Although sensorineural hearing loss is most often permanent, many people find treatment with hearing aids to be extremely helpful for this type of impairment.

Looking into an ear with a scope during a hearing test

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Degrees of Severity

On most scales, the quietest sounds that people with mild hearing loss are able to interpret range from about 25-40 dBA. 40 dBA is about the same noise level as a faint birdcall. With this degree of hearing loss, people will have difficulty keeping up with conversations, especially with multiple communication partners or in noisy environments. Mild hearing loss can be treated with most hearing aid models.

The quietest sounds that can be heard from a person with moderate hearing loss ranges from about 40-70 dBA. 70 dBA is about the same noise level as normal speech from about three feet away. If one suffers from moderate hearing loss, they will also have difficulty understanding conversations, even in quieter environments and when one-on-one. Moderate hearing loss can be treated with most hearing aid models.

For those with severe hearing loss, the quietest sounds that can be heard ring in between 70-95 dBA. 95 dBA is about the same level as a garbage disposal at three feet away. People with severe hearing loss will have difficulty understanding conversations with one person in a quiet room. Most people with severe hearing loss rely heavily on lip reading to understand. Severe hearing loss can be treated with some hearing aid models equipped with technologies to support this degree of hearing loss.

Those with profound hearing loss can only hear sounds that ring in at 95 dBA or higher. People with profound hearing loss are very hearing impaired and some may even rely on sign language to communicate. There are hearing aids made specifically to assist those with profound hearing loss, and they can have some very beneficial effects to improve hearing for those with profound loss.

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Are you concerned that you may have a hearing loss? Feel free to contact us anytime. Our friendly and caring team at Audio Advantage Hearing Aid Center can help with your hearing aid needs: batteries, repairs, adjustments, new hearing aids and more.

Read more about the Types of Hearing Testing.

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