Hearing plays a crucial role in our lives, yet many of us aren’t hearing our best. According to Statistics Canada, over one million Canadians have a hearing-related disability, while other studies show that the true number may be triple that.

If you or a loved one is struggling to hear properly, it’s important that you understand the different types of hearing loss to ensure you get the help you need.

The three main types of hearing loss are:

  1. Conductive Hearing Loss
  2. Sensorineural Hearing Loss
  3. Mixed Hearing Loss

Each is related to a specific part of the ear and can be diagnosed through a hearing test. We’ll help you better understand the causes, symptoms, and treatments of each type of hearing loss below.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss takes place in the outer or middle ear. People with this type of hearing loss will often say their ears feel “full” or “plugged.” And they’re right—conductive hearing loss happens when a blockage prevents sound from traveling to the inner ear.

Earwax buildup is a common cause of conductive hearing loss, although small objects, fluids, damaged eardrums, and bone abnormalities can also be the culprit.

An audiogram test, taken through an audiologist or registered hearing aid practitioner, can determine if you or a loved one are experiencing conductive hearing loss. If this is the case, they may refer you to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist to help recover hearing.

This type of hearing loss can often be fully treated as most ear blockages are removable. Sometimes it’s as simple as removing earwax. Blockages caused by an infection may need antibiotics to heal. More serious cases, such as a perforated eardrum, abnormal bone growth, tumor, or a birth defect in which no hearing canal is present, require surgery. Specialists may also recommend a mixture of treatments.

Of course, conductive hearing loss is unique to every individual. Treatment options should always be discussed with a specialist.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss is noise-induced and caused by damage to the cochlea, or inner ear.

Inside the cochlea are tiny hair cells that help translate soundwaves into messages our brain understands. We’re born with thousands of them, but over the course of our lifetime they can become damaged either from natural aging or exposure to loud noises. Because these types of cells can’t grow back, sensorineural hearing loss is permanent.

While people with conductive hearing loss experience muffled sounds, sensorineural hearing loss can also include sound distortion. Due to how cochlea hair cells break down over time, sounds will change and evolve.

It’s completely normal to lose these hair cells as one ages. Hearing loss statistics show that this affects a large portion of adults, regardless of demographic. That said, being aware and careful of exposure to loud noises is the best way to prevent sensorineural hearing loss.

Although this type of hearing loss is irreversible, people can use hearing aids (or in severe cases a cochlear implant) to improve their hearing.

Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing loss is when someone experiences both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. This means some of the damage can likely be undone by removing blockages in the outer ear. While this can help improve some level of hearing, the conductive aspect of mixed hearing loss is irreversible and would necessitate a hearing aid or cochlear implant.

Hearing Loss After Infection

Typically, hearing loss is a gradual process due to aging, exposure to loud noises, or ear blockages. But sometimes people experience a sudden loss of hearing due to an infection. When this happens it’s important to see a specialist as soon as possible. Sudden hearing loss of this nature can be reversed if it’s addressed early on. After a couple weeks, it may become permanent.


Understanding the different types of hearing loss is important to maintaining a high quality of life. Conductive hearing loss is caused by blockages in the outer ear, sensorineural hearing loss is due to cellular damage in the inner ear, and mixed hearing loss is a result of both. Sudden hearing loss can indicate an infection in the ear, for which treatment should be immediately sought to prevent permanent damage.

If you or a loved one are experiencing hearing loss, a trained specialist can perform tests to determine the type and severity, as well as recommend a personalized treatment plan. If you have been told that you may need hearing aids, we recommend this high-quality yet affordable new model.