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 disappointed (and shocked) when the shirt doesn’t, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s sort of a bummer, isn’t it? There aren’t actually very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. That’s a fact with t-shirts and it’s also true with medical conditions, like hearing loss. This can be accurate for many reasons.

So what’s the cause of hearing loss? And what is the most common kind of hearing loss? Let’s find out!

There are different types of hearing loss

Everybody’s hearing loss situation will be as individual as they are. Maybe when you’re in a crowded restaurant you can’t hear very well, but when you’re at work, you hear fine. Or, perhaps certain frequencies of sound get lost. There are numerous forms that your hearing loss can take.

How your hearing loss presents, in part, may be dictated by what’s causing your symptoms to begin with. Any number of things can go wrong with an organ as intricate as the ear.

How does hearing work?

Before you can totally understand how hearing loss works, or what degree of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid, it’s helpful to think a bit about how things are supposed to function, how your ear is usually supposed to work. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Outer ear: This is the visible part of the ear. It’s the initial sound receiver. 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, there are some tiny little bones in there).
  • Inner ear: This is where your stereocilia are found. Vibration is detected by these fragile hairs which are then transformed into electrical energy. Your cochlea plays a part in this also. Our brain then receives this electrical energy.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve is inside of your ear, and it’s responsible for channeling 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 components working in concert with one another. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any problem in one area will usually impact the performance of the whole system.

Types of hearing loss

Because there are multiple parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) multiple types of hearing loss. Which type you develop will depend on the root cause.

The prevalent types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, usually the middle or outer ear, this type of hearing loss occurs. Normally, this blockage is due to fluid or inflammation (this typically 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. Usually, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will go back to normal once the blockage 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 form of hearing loss is usually chronic, progressive, and irreversible. As a result, individuals are normally encouraged to avoid this kind of hearing loss by using ear protection. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, it can be successfully treated with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It occasionally happens that somebody will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss simultaneously. Because the hearing loss is coming from several different places, this can sometimes be challenging to manage.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a relatively rare condition. It happens 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 kind of hearing loss.

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

Variations on hearing loss types

And there’s more. We can analyze and categorize these common types of hearing loss even more specifically. Here are some examples:

  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss describes hearing loss that comes and goes. Stable hearing loss stays at about the same level.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You might experience more trouble hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be categorized as one or the other.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is known as pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to talk. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to speak. This will impact the way hearing loss is addressed.
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that slowly worsens over time is called “progressive”. Hearing loss that erupts or presents immediately is called “sudden”.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either going through hearing loss in only one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This indicates whether your hearing loss is equal in both ears or unequal in both ears.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops as a consequence of outside forces (like damage).
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.

If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. But your hearing loss will be more successfully treated 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’re experiencing? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, unfortunately, something that is at all accurate. As an example, is your cochlea working correctly, how would you know?

But you can get a hearing exam to find out precisely what’s going on. Your loss of hearing is kind of like a “check engine” light. We can help you determine what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with by connecting you to a wide variety of modern technology.

So give us a call as soon as you can and make an appointment to find out what’s going on.


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.