There are generally three categories of hearing loss which are possible – sensorineural, conductive, and mixed. The latter being some type of combination of the first two. The very first part of analyzing a potential hearing loss is to determine the type of loss. From there, a more precise diagnosis and therefore treatment can be determined.

Looking at the anatomy of the ear to understand better, conductive hearing loss often originates the first two parts of the ear (outer or middle), whereas sensorineural hearing loss usually refers to an inner ear issue.


Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) originates from an inner ear (specifically the cochela) or auditory (cochlear) nerve problem. This indicates there is a problem with sending the sound signal that is arriving at the ear to the brain.

By far the most common type of hearing loss, most humans as they age will experience some degree of SNHL (presbycusis). Typically, the loss is permanent and treatment is aimed at rehabilitation rather than cure.

There is one exception to this, a problem known as Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss. SSNHL can often be treated effectively and the hearing restored if treatment is done promptly.

Any patient with a sudden hearing loss should be evaluated immediately.


Conductive hearing loss (CHL) implies there is a problem with the transmission of the sound waves (conduction) into the inner ear, specifically the cochlea. Anything which interferes with the passage of sound through the ear canal, onto the tympanic membrane, and then through the middle ear space can cause a conductive problem.

Some potential problems are temporary and very easily reversible such as clearing wax or removing a foreign body from the ear canal. Fluid behind the ear drum, or types of otitis media can also cause a conductive hearing loss. Sometimes this is acute and will improve with time and other times this can be more chronic. Occasionally, certain types of conductive hearing loss and ear disease can be treated surgically.

Evaluation by an ENT specialist can help you determine what the cause might be and then what treatment options might be considered.


Mixed hearing loss indicates there are both sensorineural and conductive components to the problem. Each part would need to then be treated appropriately.



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