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 advertised as “one size fits all” but when you went to put it on, you were discouraged to find that it didn’t fit at all? That’s truly aggravating. 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 like hearing loss. There can be a wide variety of reasons why it happens.

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

Hearing loss comes in different kinds

Because hearing is such an intricate cognitive and physical process, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Maybe when you’re in a crowded restaurant you can’t hear very well, but when you’re at work, you hear just fine. Or perhaps you only have difficulty with high-pitched voices or low-pitched sounds. There are numerous forms that your hearing loss can take.

The root cause of your hearing loss will determine how it manifests. Lots of things can go wrong with an organ as complex as the ear.

How does hearing work?

It’s useful to get an idea of how hearing is supposed to work before we can understand what level of hearing loss requires a hearing aid. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Outer ear: This is the visible part of the ear. It’s where you’re initially exposed to a “sound”. The shape of your ear helps funnel those sounds into your middle ear (where they are processed further).
  • Middle ear: The middle ear is composed of your eardrum and a few tiny ear bones (yes, you have bones in your ear, but they are admittedly very, very tiny).
  • Inner ear: Your stereocilia are found hear. These tiny hairs pick up on vibrations and start converting those vibrations into electrical energy. Your cochlea plays a part in this too. Our brain then receives these electrical signals.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve is inside of your ear, and it’s responsible for transmitting and sending this electrical energy to your brain.
  • Auditory system: All of the parts 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 unison with one another. In other words, the system is interconnected, so any issue in one area will usually impact the performance of the entire system.

Types of hearing loss

There are numerous types of hearing loss because there are numerous parts of the ear. Which type you experience will depend on the root cause.

The common types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often the middle or outer ear, this form of hearing loss happens. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the reason for this blockage (this typically happens, for example, when you have an ear infection). Sometimes, conductive hearing loss can be caused by a growth in the ear canal. 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 noise they are normally destroyed. This form of hearing loss is typically chronic, progressive, and permanent. Usually, individuals are encouraged to use hearing protection to avoid this kind of hearing loss. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be managed by devices such as hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It occasionally happens that someone will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss at the same time. This can sometimes be hard to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s fairly rare for someone to develop ANSD. When sound is not effectively transmitted from your ear to your brain, this kind of hearing loss happens. A device called a cochlear implant is normally used to manage this kind of hearing loss.

The desired results are the same even though the treatment option will differ for each form of hearing loss: to improve or preserve your ability to hear.

Hearing loss types have variations

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

  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • 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.
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss describes hearing loss that appears and disappears. Stable hearing loss remains at about the same level.
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually gets worse over time. If your hearing loss arises all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You might have more difficulty hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be categorized as one or the other.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s called “congenital”.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops as a result of outside causes (like damage).
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is called pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to talk. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to speak. This can have ramifications for treatment and adaptation.

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

A hearing exam is in order

So how can you tell which of these categories pertains to your hearing loss scenario? 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 that’s what hearing tests are for! Your loss of hearing is sort of like a “check engine” light. We can help you determine what type of hearing loss you have by connecting you to a wide variety of modern technology.

So contact us as soon as you can 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.