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 seen a t-shirt promoted as “one size fits all” but when you went to try it on, you were disheartened to find that it didn’t fit at all? It’s kind of a bummer, isn’t it? The truth is that there’s almost 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 like hearing loss. There can be numerous reasons why it happens.

So what causes hearing loss? And what’s the most prevalent type of hearing loss? Let’s see what we can find out!

Hearing loss comes in different kinds

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

How your hearing loss shows up, in part, could be determined by what causes your symptoms in the first place. Because your ear is a rather complex little organ, there are lots 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 calls for a hearing aid, it’s practical to consider how things are supposed to function, how your ear is usually supposed to work. Check out this breakdown:

  • Outer ear: This is the visible portion of the ear. It’s where you’re first exposed to a “sound”. Sounds are effectively guided into your middle ear for further processing due to the shape of your outer ear.
  • Middle ear: The eardrum and some tiny bones are what your middle ear is composed of (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
  • Inner ear: Your stereocilia are found hear. These tiny hairs detect vibrations and begin converting those vibrations into electrical energy. Your cochlea helps here, too. Our brain then receives these electrical signals.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve is inside of your ear, and it’s responsible for channeling 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. It’s essential to understand that all of these elements are constantly working together and in unison with each other. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any issue in one area will typically impact the performance of the entire system.

Types of hearing loss

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

Here are some of the most prevalent causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This kind of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often in the middle or outer ear. Hormally, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (this typically happens, for example, when you have an ear infection). In some cases, conductive hearing loss can be the result of a growth in the ear canal. Typically, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will return to normal once the obstruction is gone.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud sound, the fragile hair cells which detect sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. This type of hearing loss is usually chronic, progressive, and irreversible. Typically, people are encouraged to wear hearing protection to avoid this type of hearing loss. 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 several different places, this can sometimes be challenging to manage.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a rather rare condition. When sound is not properly transmitted from your ear to your brain, this kind of hearing loss occurs. ANSD can usually be managed with a device called a cochlear implant.

The desired results are the same even though the treatment option will vary for each type of hearing loss: improving your hearing ability.

Variations on hearing loss kinds

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

  • 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 speak. This can have ramifications for treatment and adaptation.
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss due to external causes, like damage, it’s known as “acquired”.
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that gradually worsens over time is called “progressive”. Hearing loss that appears or presents immediately is known as “sudden”.
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss describes hearing loss that appears and disappears. If your hearing loss stays at about the same levels, it’s called stable.
  • 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: It’s possible to experience hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You may experience more trouble hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be classified as one or the other.

If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. But your hearing loss will be more effectively treated when we’re able to use these categories.

Time to have a hearing exam

So how can you tell which type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you’re experiencing? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can accurately diagnose by yourself. As an example, is your cochlea working properly, how would you know?

But you can get a hearing test to determine precisely 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 hook you up 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 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.