Introduction to the Terminology of Hearing Loss Classifications

Understanding the way we hear is the starting point in understanding the numerous reasons for hearing loss and the different forms of hearing loss. We receive sounds through the outer ear, which is not just the section of the ear on the outside of our heads, but also the ear canal and the eardrum. In the middle ear three miniature bones called ossicles transfer sounds to the inner ear by transforming them into vibrations. Lastly, the inner ear contains the cochlea (a tiny, snail-shaped organ), two canals with a semicircular shape which are important to balance, and the acoustic nerves, which convey the sound to our brains. All sections of the ear are complex and fragile. Problems in any of the 3 sections – outer, middle or inner ear – may cause hearing loss.

Four different classifications constitute what is collectively called “hearing loss.”

Conductive hearing loss is caused by something interfering with the transmission of sound in the outer or middle ear. Hearing aids can treat conductive hearing loss if medication or surgery cannot address it.

The second classification is sensorineural hearing loss, which is caused by damage in the inner ear – to the cochlea, to the hair cells lining the inner ear, or to the acoustic nerves themselves. Hearing aids are usually the best option for treating sensorineural hearing loss, as most cases are not successfully remedied with medication or surgery.

The third classification is mixed hearing loss, which is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, and which can often be treated using the same combinations of surgery, medication, and hearing aids.

Damage to the inner ear or auditory nerves preventing a message from being understood by our brain that entered the ear normally, is called central hearing loss.

All hearing loss classifications include sub-categories for the degree of hearing loss and are classified as mid-level, moderate, severe, or profound. Additional sub-categories include whether the hearing loss occurs in one ear or both ears (unilateral vs. bilateral), whether it occurs at the same degree in both ears (symmetrical vs. asymmetrical), and whether the hearing loss happened before or after the person learned to speak (pre-lingual vs post-lingual). Hearing loss can also be categorized as having occurred slowly or gradually (progressive vs. sudden), whether the degree of loss changes and gets better at times or stays the same (fluctuating vs. stable), and whether the loss was present at birth or developed later in life (congenital vs. acquired). The most important thing to bear in mind, however, is that whatever type of hearing loss you may have incurred, our specialists can help you to diagnose and treat it properly.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.