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Hearing Loss:  Types

Logan Drummond

Types of Hearing Loss

     Hearing impairments are one of the most prevalent, chronic physical disabilities in the United States (Higgins & Nash, 12) and until recently, most hospitals were not required to screen the hearing of newborn infants ("Types of", 2005). Since children with hearing difficulties find the acquisition of vocabulary, grammar, word order and other verbal aspects of language difficult, an early diagnosis of the type and degree of a child's hearing loss is essential to effective early intervention.

    Hearing can be defined as the act or process of perceiving sounds (Webster, 645). Hearing loss is defined as the difference between the level of sound that can be heard by an individual with impaired hearing and a standard level that has been determined by averaging measurements from a group of young hearing people (Webster, 645). Hearing losses range from mild to severe-profound and being hearing impaired or having a hearing loss does not mean someone is deaf.  The different types of hearing loss are labeled according to which part of the hearing pathway is affected. When describing hearing loss there are basically three types: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed (Martin, 3).

    Conductive hearing loss is the term given when hearing has been negatively affected by sound sensitivity produced by abnormalities of the outer ear and/or middle ear (Martin p.11). In conductive hearing loss, sound waves are not effectively transmitted to the inner ear because of some interference in the external ear canal, the mobility of the eardrum, the three tiny bones of the middle ear, the middle ear cavity, openings into the inner ear or the eustachian tube (Sattler, p. 639). This hearing loss usually involves a reduction in sound level or the ability to hear faint sounds. People who experience conductive hearing loss can often benefit from modern medical and/or surgical techniques that vastly improve their hearing and they may also benefit greatly from amplification.

    Sensorineural hearing loss, sometimes referred to perceptive loss or nerve loss, is defined as the loss of hearing caused by damage or alteration of the sensory mechanism of the cochlea or the neural structures that lay beyond (Martin p. 319). This type of hearing loss is one of the most challenging areas of modern medicine. The sensory part of a sensorineural loss applies to damage to the cochlea or inner ear while neural loss denotes loss of hearing caused by damage to the acoustic nerve occurring anywhere between the fibers at the base of the hair cells and the relay stations in the brain. This type of hearing loss involves a reduction in sound level, or ability to hear faint sounds, and also affects the ability to understand speech and to hear clearly. Sensorineural loss can be caused by disease, birth injury, drugs, genetic syndromes, exposure to noise, viruses, head trauma, aging and tumors ((Types of, 2005). The chances of restoring a sensorineural hearing loss are slim but in some cases dramatic improvements can be made. With this type of hearing loss, people's hearing can be described as "listening to a symphony orchestra playing instruments which has every third note removed-the results would be noise, no matter how loud it was" (Yount, 34).

    Frequently, people experience both a conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. A mixed hearing loss is the sum of the losses produced by abnormalities in both the conductive and sensorineural mechanisms of hearing (Martin p.11). With losses of this type, amplification may help, but problems often remain (Sattler p. 639).

    Hearing-impaired persons are born with the same God given abilities as the hearing person---with hearing being the only exception.  With the advances in medical science and with early identification and intervention, this barrier can be minimalized and hearing impaired people may be able to fully enjoy social interaction, education, life style and personality development.


Effects of Hearing Loss: American Speech-Language Hearing Association. Retrieved 04/29/05 from http://www.

Higgins, Paul, C. and Nash, Jeffrey, Phd. (1987). Understanding Deafness Socially. Charles C. Thomas, Springfield, Illinois, 12.

Martin, Frederick N.  (1991). Introduction to Audiology (4th ed.).  3, 11, 318-319. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.     

Sattler, Jerome M. (1992).  Assessment of Children, Revised and Updated Third Edition.  Jerome M. Sattler, Publisher, Inc. San Diego, California, 630.

Webster's New World College Edition, New World Dictionary of the American  Language  (2nd ed.). (1980). New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 645.

Yount, William R. (1976). An Introduction to Ministry with the Deaf, Be Opened! Broadman Press, Nashville, Tennessee, 34.


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