There are two major types of hearing loss: sensorineural and conductive. If you are suffering from hearing loss (or think you may be), you might be wondering which type of hearing loss you have. What are your treatment options? What causes each type of hearing loss? In this article, we explain the difference between the two types, who is most affected, how hearing loss is generally diagnosed, and sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) management.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss vs. Conductive Hearing Loss

  • Conductive hearing loss typically occurs in the outer or middle ear. It’s usually the result of something that may be treated medically, such as wax impaction or fluid buildup in the middle ear space.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss occurs in the inner ear from a variety of causes. SNHL often cannot be treated medically, only managed and mitigated.

Sometimes the hearing loss can be a combination of the two types, called a mixed hearing loss.

Causes of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss can occur at any age -- even in children. In most cases, children with this condition are born with it. It more typically occurs in adults, usually as a result of aging or noise-induced hearing loss. In most of these cases, the condition is progressive. Sensorineural hearing loss may have a genetic component and run in families. It is often hard to pinpoint one single cause of Sensorineural hearing loss. It is generally a combination of genetic, aging and noise induced factors.

Unlike conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss cannot be reversed, only managed.

Diagnosing Sensorineural Hearing Loss

When dealing with a new patient at Virginia ENT, we begin with a diagnostic hearing evaluation to determine the type and severity of the hearing loss. The comprehensive hearing test includes evaluation by both air conduction and bone conduction, which will help determine if the hearing loss is conductive, sensorineural or mixed in nature.

The affect the hearing loss has on speech recognition and understanding is also evaluated. One of the most common configurations of sensorineural hearing loss is high frequency, in which lower pitches are heard at normal or close-to-normal levels and hearing loss occurs in the higher pitches. In cases of high-frequency hearing loss, mostly consonant sounds are affected, causing lack of clarity when listening to speech. People with high frequency hearing loss will often report they can "hear but not understand" what others are saying. Hearing aids can help amplify these consonant sounds and make it easier to understand speech.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss Treatment

While a conductive loss can often be treated medically, treatment for sensorineural hearing loss is mostly about management. This will most likely involve a conversation with an Audiologist about developing good listening strategies and/or hearing aids.

If the patient is open to the idea of a hearing aid, it is the Audiologist's role to help the patient decide what kind of device would best suit their needs.

If you have questions about hearing loss, or would like to discuss your options for treatment or management, get in touch with Virginia ENT to request an appointment.