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 does not, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s sort of a bummer, isn’t it? 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 true with medical conditions, such as hearing loss. There can be numerous reasons why it occurs.

So what are the most prevalent types of hearing loss and what causes them? Let’s see what we can find out!

There are different kinds of hearing loss

Because hearing is such a complex mental and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Maybe when you’re in a noisy restaurant you can’t hear that well, but when you’re at work, you hear just fine. Or, maybe specific frequencies of sound get lost. There are a wide variety of forms that your hearing loss can take.

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

How does hearing work?

Before you can thoroughly 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 generally supposed to work. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Outer ear: This is the part of the ear that’s visible. It’s the initial sound receiver. Sounds are effectively funneled into your middle ear for further processing by the shape of your outer ear.
  • 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: This is where your stereocilia are found. These fragile hairs detect vibrations and start converting those vibrations into electrical energy. Your cochlea helps here, also. These electrical signals are then sent to your brain.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve is located in your ear, and it’s responsible for channeling and sending this electrical energy towards your brain.
  • Auditory system: All of the elements listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are components of your “auditory system”. It’s important to understand that all of these parts are constantly working together and in concert with one another. Usually, in other words, the entire system will be affected if any one part has issues.

Varieties of hearing loss

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

The common types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This kind of hearing loss occurs because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, frequently in the middle or outer ear. Normally, this blockage is due to fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this typically happens). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. When the blockage is eliminated, hearing will normally go back to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the fragile hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are normally destroyed. Usually, this is a chronic, progressive and irreversible type of hearing loss. As a result, people are normally encouraged to avoid this kind of hearing loss by using ear protection. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, it can be effectively treated with 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 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 does not effectively 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 type of hearing loss calls for a different treatment approach, but the desired results are usually the same: to improve or maintain your ability to hear.

Variations on hearing loss types

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

  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to come and go, it might be referred to as fluctuating. Stable hearing loss remains at around the same level.
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You might have more trouble hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be classified as one or the other.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss due to external forces, like damage, it’s known as “acquired”.
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that slowly worsens over time is called “progressive”. Hearing loss that erupts or shows up immediately is called “sudden”.
  • 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: Hearing loss is called pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to speak. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to talk, it’s known as post-lingual. This can have implications for treatment and adaptation.

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

Time to get a hearing test

So how can you tell which type, and what sub-type, of hearing loss you have? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, unfortunately, something that is at all accurate. As an example, is your cochlea functioning correctly, how would you know?

But that’s what hearing exams are for! Your loss of hearing is kind of like a “check engine” light. We can hook you up to a wide variety of machines, and help determine what type of hearing loss you have.

So the best way to understand what’s going on is to schedule 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.


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