The four types of hearing loss explained

Research indicates that one in six Australians has some form of hearing loss. 

Hearing loss refers to reduced hearing, which can be caused by a variety of factors. It can either be congenital or acquired later on in life.

Hearing loss is classified into four distinguishing levels by medical professionals as mild, moderate, severe and profound hearing loss.

There are two main category types: conductive and sensorineural. There are also two main hearing disorders: tinnitus and Meniere’s disease.

Conductive hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss is caused by obstructions or malfunctions in the outer or middle ear. It can be caused by outer or middle ear infections and malfunctions, a damaged ear drum or impacted ear wax.

Sensorineural hearing loss 

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when impairment of sensory cells inside the ear or neurological impairment compromises the reception of sound or understanding of language.

It is the result of damage to the hair cells in the inner ear, which can be caused by ageing, exposure to loud noise (such as machinery or loud music), diseases such as meningitis and certain chemicals and medications.


Tinnitus is a physical condition, experienced as noises or ringing in a person’s ears or head, when no such external physical noise is present.

Approximately 17 to 20 per cent of Australians suffer from some degree of tinnitus, varying from mild to severe. The percentage of people who are severely affected is small.

Tinnitus is not a disease in itself. It is a symptom of a fault in a person’s auditory (hearing) system, which includes the ears and the brain.

The word ‘tinnitus’ is from the Latin for ‘tinkling or ringing like a bell’.

Tinnitus does not have to dramatically affect your quality of life. Try to avoid focusing too much attention on your tinnitus and take steps to manage the condition. Avoid excessive noise, and find relaxation and stress management techniques that work for you.

The most common causes of tinnitus include exposure to loud sounds, extreme stress or trauma, degeneration of the hair cells in the cochlea or ear problems, such as otosclerosis that is an abnormal bone growth in the middle ear.

Meniere’s disease

Hearing loss is just one of the symptoms of Meniere’s disease, which can also include vertigo and nausea as it affects the inner ear, which is the centre of hearing and balance.

During an attack, the person experiences vertigo – a sensation that they or the world around them is moving. They feel dizzy and sick, their hearing is dominated by a hissing or roaring sound (tinnitus), and one or both ears feel full to bursting.

Meniere’s disease may develop slowly over time, with a gradual loss of hearing, or suddenly with a vertigo attack. Attacks can last from 10 minutes to several hours.

After an attack, a person may experience mild deafness and feel unsure of their footing. As the disease progresses, the episodes of vertigo become less frequent and the deafness becomes more severe.

Have you had your hearing checked recently? How often do you have your hearing checked? Do you use a hearing aid? Which ones have you found work best? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Also read: Who knows your health history?

Written by YourLifeChoices Writers

YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.

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