Hearing management

Updated 29 January 2015

Types of hearing loss

Many people associate hearing loss with old age. Although most cases can indeed be attributed to old age, there are many other causes.


Hearing loss is normally divided into two categories: conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss, depending on where the hearing loss originates in the ear.

One can also have a mixed hearing loss, which is a combination of the two. Knowing the type of hearing loss is necessary in order to provide proper treatment.

Conductive hearing loss
There are a number of conditions that may cause conductive hearing loss:

  • Middle ear infection
  • Fractured chain of bones
  • Perforated eardrum
  • Outer ear deformity
  • Otosclerosis
  • Ear wax

Common causes of conductive hearing loss in children include:

  • Cerumen (earwax) or other debris: The accumulation of debris such as earwax within the ear canal can cause a conductive hearing loss. Debris must be removed by a professional once it has been identified as contributing to hearing loss. Removed without complication, the hearing is typically fully restored.
  • Middle ear infection (otitis media): Infection of the middle ear is a common disorder, especially in young children. An acute infection is very painful and should be treated immediately. If treatment is not sought soon enough, a rupture of the eardrum may follow. A healthy eardrum will typically heal itself by closing the rupture with scar tissue. However, an accumulation of scar tissue following many episodes of infection can also cause a conductive hearing loss which may be more difficult to reverse.

Sensorineural hearing loss
There are a number of conditions that may cause sensorineural hearing loss:

  • Ageing
  • Heredity
  • Illness
  • Congenital conditions
  • Acoustic trauma

Common causes of sensorineural hearing loss in children include:

  • Congenital: This type of hearing loss implies that your child was born with hearing loss. A congenital hearing loss may be hereditary, stemming from a known or unknown family history. Congenital hearing losses may be a consequence of genetic syndromes (ex: Down’s syndrome). Furthermore, these types of hearing loss can arise from factors affecting pregnancy such as alcohol, drugs or medications taken during pregnancy, illnesses contracted by the mother before or during pregnancy or complications during labour.
  • Acoustic noise trauma: Continual exposure to excessive loud sounds or a brief exposure to sudden impact sounds can cause sensorineural hearing loss (ex: fireworks and cap guns).
  • Infections: Severe cases of certain infections such as measles, mumps, meningitis or whooping cough can lead to various degrees of sensorineural hearing loss.

    Image: Hearing loss from Shutterstock


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Hearing Expert

Heidi Allan is a qualified audiologist and speech-language therapist with 28 years experience both in South Africa and the Netherlands. I am a member of the American Academy of Audiology, the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, the South African Speech-Language Hearing Association and the South African Audiology Association. I have held leadership roles at both provincial and national level in my profession and deliver presentations across the country on aspects of audiology. My areas of particular interest include Central Auditory Processing Disorders (CAPD), hearing aid fitting and rehabilitation, diagnostic audiology and public education.

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