How Many Different Kinds of Hearing Loss are There?

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

Have you ever purchased one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be dismayed (and surprised) when the shirt doesn’t, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s sort of a bummer, right? The reality is that there’s pretty much nothing in the world that is truly a “one size fits all”. That’s not only relevant with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions such as 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 exactly what we intend to explore.

Hearing loss comes in different kinds

Everyone’s hearing loss scenario will be as unique as they are. Perhaps you hear just fine at the office, but not in a noisy restaurant. Or, maybe specific frequencies of sound get lost. Your hearing loss can take a wide variety of shapes.

How your hearing loss presents, in part, might be determined by what’s causing your symptoms in the first place. Because your ear is a very complex little organ, there are lots of things that can go wrong.

How does hearing work?

Before you can completely understand how hearing loss works, or what level of hearing loss requires a hearing aid, it’s practical to think a bit about how things are supposed to function, how your ear is typically supposed to work. Check out this breakdown:

  • Outer ear: This is the portion of the ear that’s visible. It’s where you’re initially exposed to a “sound”. Sounds are efficiently funneled into your middle ear for further processing due to the shape of your outer ear.
  • Middle ear: The middle ear is composed of your eardrum and several tiny ear bones (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 detect vibrations and begin translating those vibrations into electrical energy. Your cochlea plays a part in this too. Our brain then receives this electrical energy.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve is located in your ear, and it’s responsible for transmitting and directing this electrical energy towards your brain.
  • Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” encompasses all of the elements discussed above. The total hearing process depends on all of these parts working in unison with one another. Usually, in other words, the whole system will be impacted if any one part has issues.

Types of hearing loss

There are multiple types of hearing loss because there are multiple parts of the ear. The root cause of your hearing loss will determine which type of hearing loss you develop.

The common types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This form of hearing loss occurs because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, frequently in the outer or middle ear. Usually, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (this typically happens, for example, when you have an ear infection). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. Usually, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will return to normal as soon as the blockage has been removed.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the tiny hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are usually destroyed. This form of hearing loss is usually chronic, progressive, and irreversible. Typically, people are encouraged to use ear protection to prevent this kind of hearing loss. If you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be managed by devices like hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It sometimes happens that someone will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss simultaneously. Because the hearing loss is coming from several different places, this can sometimes be difficult to treat.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s fairly rare for someone to develop ANSD. It happens when the cochlea doesn’t properly transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. A device called a cochlear implant is usually used to manage this type of hearing loss.

Each form of hearing loss calls for a different treatment approach, but the desired results are often the same: to improve or preserve your ability to hear.

Variations on hearing loss types

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

  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss describes hearing loss that comes and goes. Stable hearing loss remains at about the same level.
  • 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.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s called pre-lingual. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to talk, it’s known as post-lingual. This can have ramifications for treatment and adaptation.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You might experience more trouble hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be classified as one or the other.
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it slowly worsens over time. If your hearing loss occurs all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you develop hearing loss because of external forces, such as damage, it’s called “acquired”.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).

That might seem like a lot, and it is. The point is that each classification helps us more accurately and effectively address your symptoms.

A hearing test is in order

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

But that’s what hearing examinations are for! 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 hook you up to a wide range of machines, and help identify what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with.

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


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.