Are There Different Kinds 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 disappointed (and surprised) when the shirt does not, in fact, fit as advertised? That’s really frustrating. There aren’t really very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. That’s true with t-shirts and it’s also relevant with medical conditions, such as hearing loss. There can be many reasons why it occurs.

So what causes 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 kinds

Because hearing is such an intricate cognitive and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Maybe you hear perfectly well at the office, but not in a noisy restaurant. Or, perhaps specific frequencies of sound get lost. There are numerous forms that your hearing loss can take.

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

How your hearing works

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

  • Outer ear: This is the visible part of the ear. It’s the initial sound receiver. Sounds are efficiently funneled into your middle ear for further processing by the shape of your outer ear.
  • 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: This is where your stereocilia are found. Vibration is picked up by these little hairs which are then converted into electrical energy. Your cochlea helps here, too. Our brain then receives this electrical energy.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve directs these electrical signals to the brain.
  • Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” includes all of the parts discussed above. The total hearing process depends on all of these elements working in concert with one another. Typically, in other words, the whole system will be affected if any one part has problems.

Hearing loss types

Because there are multiple parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) numerous forms of hearing loss. Which form you experience will depend on the underlying cause.

Here are some of the most prevalent causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often the middle or outer ear, this form of hearing loss occurs. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the reason for this blockage (this usually happens, for instance, when you have an ear infection). In some cases, conductive hearing loss can be the result of a growth in the ear canal. Once the obstruction is eliminated, hearing will normally go back to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the delicate hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are normally destroyed. This type of hearing loss is usually chronic, progressive, and permanent. Because of this, individuals are normally encouraged to prevent this type of hearing loss by wearing hearing protection. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated by devices like hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to experience a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. Because the hearing loss is coming from numerous different places, this can sometimes be difficult to treat.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a fairly rare condition. When sound is not effectively transmitted from your ear to your brain, this type of hearing loss occurs. A device known as a cochlear implant is normally used to treat this kind of hearing loss.

Each type of hearing loss requires a different treatment approach, but the desired results are often the same: improving your hearing ability.

Variations on hearing loss types

And there’s more. We can break down and categorize these common types of hearing loss even more specifically. Here are a few examples:

  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is called pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to talk. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to speak, it’s called post-lingual. This will impact the way hearing loss is managed.
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss describes hearing loss that appears and disappears. If your hearing loss remains at roughly the same levels, it’s known as stable.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it slowly worsens over time. If your hearing loss occurs all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that happens as a consequence of outside causes (like damage).
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be classified as one or the other depending on which frequency range is getting lost.
  • 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.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either going through hearing loss in only one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).

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

A hearing exam is in order

So how can you tell which type, and what sub-type, of hearing loss you’re experiencing? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, regrettably, something that’s at all accurate. 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 bring it to a qualified auto technician. We can connect you to a wide variety of machines, and help identify what type of hearing loss you have.

So the best way to understand what’s happening is to schedule an appointment with us as soon as you can!


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.