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What is the difference between conductive and sensorineural hearing loss?

Conductive versus Sensorineural hearing loss: These are two of the most common forms of hearing loss, but what is the difference between Conductive and Sensorineural Hearing Loss?

Quite simply, Sensorineural Hearing Loss is where the inner ear and/or hearing nerve are damaged. Conductive Hearing Loss is where the passage of sound into the inner ear is blocked. Sometimes people can have both at the same time which is called Mixed Hearing Loss. Read on for more details...

Any hearing loss can be a result of multiple reasons and circumstances and may occur anytime during a person’s life. As hearing loss differs in type and severity for everyone, it is difficult to state a single cause. However, in some cases, it could be prevented or even averted if adequate and timely measures are taken.

Conductive hearing loss, is usually mild to moderate and in many cases responds to treatment, whereas sensorineural hearing loss is currently permanent, and the usual treatment is the use of hearing aids. They differ in causes, severity, and possibility for improvement.

Conductive vs Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Conductive Hearing Loss

Reasons for this type of hearing loss may include:

  • impacted earwax,
  • infections,
  • fluid in the middle ear,
  • perforation of the eardrum,
  • malformations of the ear,
  • otosclerosis (a hereditary disorder causing progressive deafness due to overgrowth of bone in the inner ear),
  • head injuries,
  • foreign objects in the ear canal and others.

It is crucial to consult with a specialist to determine the exact cause and the right course of treatment.

Sensorineural hearing loss

This is the most widespread type of hearing loss and can be due to a number of reasons including:

  • genetic condition,
  • ototoxic drugs (having a toxic effect on the ear or its nerve supply),
  • head traumas,
  • different types of illnesses (mumps, meningitis, Ménière’s disease), acoustic neuroma,
  • various neurological conditions (brain tumour, multiple sclerosis, stroke),
  • malformations in the cochlea.
  • however, the two most common causes are ageing and exposure to an abrupt or continuous loud noise.

While age related hearing loss is connected to the natural course of time, noise-induced hearing loss can be avoided if proper measures are taken such as wearing ear protection, e.g. at a loud workplace or rock concert.

What are the Treatment Options?

Unfortunately, as yet, sensorineural hearing loss is permanent and cannot be cured. It can be both congenital and acquired later in life. It is associated with damage to the tiny hair cells of the cochlea or inner ear or nerve pathways leading to the brain. The hair cells do not regenerate or reproduce, which makes them extremely challenging to treat and in most cases impossible.

Conductive hearing loss is treatable and can be reversible either with medication or surgically.

While some hearing conditions can be helped with surgical intervention or medications, others can be alleviated with the use of a hearing aid or cochlear implant for more severe cases.

Your audiologist can recommend the most efficient treatment for your individual situation as well as a suitable hearing aid if one is needed. One of the most popular hearing devices is a behind the ear hearing aid that is powerful enough to help people with mild to profound hearing loss.

Mixed Hearing Loss

Sometimes it's not a case of Conductive vs Sensorineural Hearing Loss, but a case of Mixed Hearing Loss. If someone shows signs of both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss, it can be classed as mixed hearing loss.

Mixed hearing loss commonly occurs when the ear sustains a trauma and symptoms can appear gradually over time. For example, a conductive hearing loss symptom could become a sensorineural symptom and vice versa.

Treatment will depend primarily on whether the hearing loss is more sensorineural or conductive.

Hearing Test

It's worth testing your hearing regularly and at HearingDirect, we have created our very own online hearing check. It's completely free and you can do it in the comfort of your own home.

All you will need is a few free minutes and some ear or headphones. Once the test is complete, you will get your results instantly via email and based on the outcome of the hearing test, you may be encouraged to take further action.

Further Reading

Guide to Hearing

What is Sensorineural Hearing Loss? Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

What is Conductive Hearing Loss? Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Tips for Unblocking your Ears

Age Related Hearing Loss: Causes, Symptoms and Management

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Author: Joan McKechnie

Image of Joan McKechnie Audiologist our Hearing Loss expertAfter qualifying as a Speech-Language Pathologist and Audiologist Joan has spent most of her 20 year career in hearing-care related roles. She has a wealth of experience within the hearing aid and hearing rehabilitation fields and has worked in manufacturing environments with two hearing aid companies helping to develop  products and roll out new technologies. Joan has been involved with Hearing Direct since its launch and enjoys the online retail environment which seeks to provide easier access to hearing products and accessories. She is HCPC registered. Read Joan's full bio here.