Understanding Hearing Loss

Doctor looking in a child's ear.

Many different things can happen in the ear to cause a hearing loss.

Our ear and hearing are made up of many parts:

These terms describe hearing loss where part of the hearing system is not working in a usual way:

  • A conductive loss — hearing loss caused by something that stops sounds from getting through the outer or middle ear.
  • A sensorineural loss — hearing loss that occurs when there is a problem in the way the inner ear or hearing nerve works.
  • A mixed hearing loss — hearing loss that includes a conductive and a sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder — Hearing loss that occurs when sound enters the ear normally, but because of damage to the inner ear or the hearing nerve, sound isn’t organized in a way that the brain can understand. For more information, visit the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

These terms describe the degree or the amount of hearing loss a child has:

  • Mild Hearing Loss — a person with a mild hearing loss may hear some speech sounds but soft sounds are hard to hear.
  • Moderate Hearing Loss — a person with a moderate hearing loss may hear almost no speech when another person is talking at a normal level.
  • Severe Hearing Loss — a person with severe hearing loss will hear no speech of a person talking at a normal level and only some loud sounds.
  • Profound Hearing Loss — a person with a profound hearing loss will not hear any speech and only very loud sounds.

These terms describe when the hearing loss happened:

  • Pre-lingual — the hearing loss occurred before the child learned to talk.
  • Post-lingual — the hearing loss occurred after the child learned to talk.

These terms describe the side or sides on which the hearing loss occurs:

  • Unilateral — there is a hearing loss in one ear.
  • Bilateral — there is a hearing loss in both ears.

Parents and professionals will use these terms to describe a child’s unique type of hearing loss when talking to others.

If professionals and other parents use terms that you don’t understand, please ask questions.