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 try it on, you were discouraged to find that it didn’t fit at all? It’s kind of a bummer, isn’t it? There aren’t actually 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 like hearing loss. There can be numerous reasons why it happens.

So what’s the cause of hearing loss? And what’s the most common type of hearing loss? Well, that’s exactly what we intend to find out.

Hearing loss comes in different forms

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

How your hearing loss shows up, in part, may be dictated by what causes your symptoms in the first place. Because your ear is a rather complex little organ, there are any number of things that can go wrong.

How your hearing works

It’s helpful to get an idea of how hearing is supposed to work before we can figure out what degree of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Outer ear: This is the part of the ear that’s visible. It’s the initial sound receiver. The shape of your ear helps funnel those sounds into your middle ear (where they are further processed).
  • Middle ear: The eardrum and a few tiny bones are what your middle ear is composed of (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
  • Inner ear: Your stereocilia are found hear. Vibration is detected by these fragile hairs which are then transformed into electrical energy. Your cochlea helps here, too. Our brain then receives these electrical signals.
  • 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”. The complete hearing process depends on all of these parts working in concert with each other. Usually, in other words, the entire system will be impacted if any one part has issues.

Hearing loss varieties

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

Here are some of the most common causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, usually the middle or outer ear, this form of hearing loss occurs. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (when you have an ear infection, for example, this typically happens). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. Typically, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will return to normal once the obstruction has been removed.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the delicate hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are normally destroyed. Usually, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent form of hearing loss. Usually, individuals are encouraged to wear ear protection to avoid this type of hearing loss. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, it can be successfully managed with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to have a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. Because the hearing loss is coming from several different places, this can sometimes be difficult to treat.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s relatively rare for somebody to develop ANSD. It occurs when the cochlea doesn’t effectively transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. ANSD can usually be managed with a device called a cochlear implant.

Each type of hearing loss requires a different treatment strategy, but the desired results are usually the same: to improve or preserve your ability to hear.

Hearing loss kinds have variations

And that’s not all! Any of these common kinds of hearing loss can be categorized further (and more specifically). For example, hearing loss can also be classified as:

  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss tends to appear and disappear, it may be referred to as fluctuating. Stable hearing loss stays at around the same level.
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that slowly worsens over time is called “progressive”. Hearing loss that appears or presents immediately is called “sudden”.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be classified as one or the other depending on what frequency range is getting lost.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to experience hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss due to external causes, such as damage, it’s known as “acquired”.
  • 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 can have ramifications for treatment and adaptation.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: If your hearing loss is the same in both ears it’s symmetrical and if it isn’t the same in both ears it’s asymmetrical.

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

Time to get a hearing exam

So how do you know what type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you’re experiencing? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can accurately diagnose by yourself. For instance, is your cochlea functioning correctly, how would you know?

But you can get a hearing exam to find out exactly what’s going on. It’s like when you have a check engine light on in your car and you take it to a skilled auto technician. We can help you determine what type of hearing loss you have by connecting you to a wide variety of modern technology.

So the best way to determine 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. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.