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 bought 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? That’s truly aggravating. The reality is that there’s pretty much nothing in the world that is really a “one size fits all”. That’s true with t-shirts and it’s also relevant with medical conditions, such as hearing loss. This can be true for many reasons.

So what are the most prevalent types of hearing loss and what are their causes? Well, that’s exactly what we intend to explore.

There are different types of hearing loss

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

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

How your hearing works

It’s helpful to get an understanding of how hearing is supposed to work before we can figure out what degree of hearing loss requires a hearing aid. Check out this breakdown:

  • Outer ear: This is the visible portion of the ear. It’s the initial sound receiver. The shape of your ear helps direct those sounds into your middle ear (where they are processed further).
  • 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: Your stereocilia are found hear. These fragile hairs detect vibrations and start converting those vibrations into electrical signals. Your cochlea plays a part in this too. Our brain then receives this electrical energy.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve sends these electrical signals to the brain.
  • Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” encompasses all of the parts discussed above. It’s important to understand that all of these elements are continually working together and in concert with one another. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any problem in one area will usually impact the performance of the entire system.

Types of hearing loss

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

The common types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This type of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, frequently in the outer or middle ear. Typically, this blockage is due to fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this typically occurs). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. Once the blockage is removed, hearing will usually return to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud noise, the fragile hair cells which detect sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. Usually, this is a chronic, progressive and irreversible form of hearing loss. As a result, people are normally encouraged to prevent this kind of hearing loss by using hearing protection. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated by devices such as 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 challenging to manage.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s relatively rare for somebody to develop ANSD. It takes place when the cochlea does not effectively transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. ANSD can normally be treated with a device called a cochlear implant.

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

Hearing loss kinds have variations

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

  • 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.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You might have more difficulty hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be classified as one or the other.
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to talk, it’s called pre-lingual. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to talk. This can have implications for treatment and adaptation.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops as a result of outside causes (like damage).
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to come and go, it may be referred to as fluctuating. If your hearing loss remains at approximately the same levels, it’s known as stable.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either going through hearing loss in only one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it slowly gets worse over time. Hearing loss that erupts or shows up instantly is called “sudden”.

That may seem like a lot, and it is. But your hearing loss will be more successfully managed when we’re able to use these classifications.

A hearing test is in order

So how do you know what type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you have? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, unfortunately, something that’s at all accurate. For instance, is your cochlea working properly, how would you know?

But that’s what hearing examinations are for! Your loss of hearing is sort of like a “check engine” light. We can help you figure out what type of hearing loss you have by connecting you to a wide variety of modern technology.

So the best way to figure out what’s happening is to make 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.