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 bought one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be dismayed (and shocked) when the shirt doesn’t, in fact, fit as advertised? That’s truly frustrating. There aren’t really very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. That’s not only relevant with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions such as hearing loss. There can be a wide variety of reasons why it occurs.

So what causes hearing loss? And what is the most common kind of hearing loss? Let’s find out!

Hearing loss comes in different forms

Everybody’s hearing loss situation will be as unique as they are. Maybe when you’re in a crowded restaurant you can’t hear very well, but at work, you hear fine. Or, maybe certain frequencies of sound get lost. Your hearing loss can take a variety of forms.

The underlying cause of your hearing loss will dictate how it manifests. Because your ear is a fairly complex little organ, there are any number of things that can go wrong.

How does hearing work?

It’s useful to get an idea of how hearing is supposed to work before we can determine what level of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid. Check out this breakdown:

  • Outer ear: This is the visible portion of the ear. It’s the initial sound receiver. The shape of your ear helps direct those sounds into your middle ear (where they are processed further).
  • Middle ear: The eardrum and several tiny bones are what your middle ear is composed of (yes, you have bones in your ear, but they are admittedly very, very tiny).
  • Inner ear: This is where your stereocilia are found. These fragile hairs pick up on vibrations and start converting those vibrations into electrical signals. Your cochlea plays a role in this also. This electrical energy is then carried to your brain.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve is inside of your ear, and it’s responsible for channeling and sending this electrical energy towards your brain.
  • Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” encompasses all of the parts discussed above. The total hearing process depends on all of these elements working in unison with each other. Usually, in other words, the whole system will be affected if any one part has problems.

Varieties of hearing loss

Because there are multiple parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) multiple types of hearing loss. The root cause of your hearing loss will determine which kind of hearing loss you develop.

The prevalent types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This form of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often in the outer or middle ear. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the reason for this blockage (when you have an ear infection, for example, this typically occurs). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. Normally, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will return to normal when the obstruction is gone.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud noise, the delicate hair cells which detect sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. This form of hearing loss is generally chronic, progressive, and irreversible. Usually, individuals are encouraged to use hearing protection to avoid this kind of hearing loss. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, it can be effectively managed with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to experience a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. This can sometimes be difficult to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s relatively rare for somebody to develop ANSD. When sound is not properly transmitted from your ear to your brain, this type of hearing loss occurs. ANSD can normally be managed with a device known as a cochlear implant.

Each form of hearing loss requires a different treatment method, but the desired results are usually the same: improving your hearing ability.

Variations on hearing loss types

And there’s more. Any of these normal types of hearing loss can be further categorized (and with more specificity). For instance, hearing loss can also be classified as:

  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either going through hearing loss in only one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This indicates whether your hearing loss is the same in both ears or unequal in both ears.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be categorized as one or the other depending on what frequency range is getting lost.
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss refers to hearing loss that appears and disappears. If your hearing loss stays at roughly the same levels, it’s called stable.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is called pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to speak. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to speak. This will impact the way hearing loss is addressed.
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually gets worse over time. If your hearing loss occurs all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops as a result of outside forces (such as damage).

That may seem like a lot, and it is. The point is that each classification helps us more precisely and effectively manage your symptoms.

A hearing test is in order

So how can you tell which type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you have? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can self-diagnose with much accuracy. As an example, is your cochlea working properly, how would you know?

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

So call us today and schedule an appointment to find out what’s happening.


The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.