Are There Different Types of Hearing Loss?

Shot of a senior man drinking coffee and looking thoughtfully out of a window wondering about hearing loss.

Have you ever seen a t-shirt promoted as “one size fits all” but when you went to put it on, you were disheartened to find that it didn’t fit at all? It’s kind of a bummer, isn’t it? The truth is that there’s virtually nothing in the world that is really a “one size fits all”. That’s not only relevant with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions like hearing loss. There can be many reasons why it happens.

So what causes hearing loss? And what is the most prevalent kind of hearing loss? Well, that’s precisely what we intend to find out.

There are different kinds of hearing loss

Everybody’s hearing loss scenario will be as individual as they are. Perhaps you hear perfectly well at the office, but not in a crowded restaurant. Or perhaps you only have difficulty with high-pitched voices or low-pitched sounds. Your loss of hearing can take a wide range of forms.

How your hearing loss presents, in part, may be dictated by what’s causing your symptoms to begin with. Any number of things can go wrong with an organ as intricate as the ear.

How does hearing work?

Before you can thoroughly understand how hearing loss works, or what degree of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid, it’s practical to consider how things are supposed to function, how your ear is typically supposed to work. Check out this breakdown:

  • Outer ear: This is the visible part of the ear. It’s where you’re first exposed to a “sound”. The shape of your ear helps direct those sounds into your middle ear (where they are further processed).
  • Middle ear: The middle ear consists of your eardrum and several tiny ear bones (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
  • Inner ear: Your stereocilia are found hear. These fragile hairs pick up on vibrations and begin translating those vibrations into electrical signals. Your cochlea helps here, also. Our brain then receives this electrical energy.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve directs these electrical signals to the brain.
  • Auditory system: All of the components listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are elements of your “auditory system”. It’s important to understand that all of these elements are continually working together and in unison with each other. Typically, in other words, the entire system will be affected if any one part has problems.

Varieties of hearing loss

Because there are numerous parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) numerous types of hearing loss. Which type you develop will depend on the root cause.

Here are some of the most common causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often the middle or outer ear, this type of hearing loss occurs. Usually, this blockage is caused by fluid or inflammation (this usually happens, for example, when you have an ear infection). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. When the obstruction is removed, hearing will usually return to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the fragile hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are usually destroyed. Usually, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent type of hearing loss. Typically, individuals are encouraged to use hearing protection to prevent this kind of hearing loss. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, it can be effectively treated with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to have a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. This can often be hard to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a rather rare condition. It takes place when the cochlea does not effectively transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. A device known as a cochlear implant is normally used to treat this type of hearing loss.

The desired results are the same even though the treatment option will vary for each form of hearing loss: improving your hearing ability.

Variations on hearing loss kinds

And that isn’t all! Any of these normal kinds of hearing loss can be further categorized (and with more specificity). For example, hearing loss can also be classified as:

  • High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be categorized as one or the other depending on what frequency range is getting lost.
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually worsens over time. If your hearing loss arises all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that happens as a result of outside causes (like damage).
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: If your hearing loss is the same in both ears it’s symmetrical and if it’s not the same in both ears it’s asymmetrical.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s called pre-lingual. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to speak. This can have implications for treatment and adaptation.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss describes hearing loss that appears and disappears. If your hearing loss stays at roughly the same levels, it’s called stable.

If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. The point is that each classification helps us more precisely and effectively manage your symptoms.

Time to get a hearing test

So how can you tell which type, and what sub-type, of hearing loss you have? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, unfortunately, something that’s at all accurate. It will be hard for you to know, for example, whether your cochlea is working properly.

But that’s what hearing examinations are for! It’s like when you have a check engine light on in your car and you bring it to a qualified auto technician. We can help you identify what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with by hooking you up to a wide range of modern technology.

So the best way to understand what’s going on is to make an appointment with us today!


The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Schedule an appointment to see if hearing aids could benefit you.