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 put it on, you were disheartened to find that it didn’t fit at all? That’s truly frustrating. The fact is that there’s almost nothing in the world that is really a “one size fits all”. That’s a fact with t-shirts and it’s also true with medical conditions, such as hearing loss. This can be true for many reasons.

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

There are different kinds of hearing loss

Because hearing is such a complex cognitive and physical process, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Perhaps when you’re in a noisy restaurant you can’t hear that well, but when you’re at work, you hear just fine. Or, perhaps certain frequencies of sound get lost. Your hearing loss can take a wide variety of shapes.

The underlying 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 understand what level of hearing loss requires a hearing aid. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • 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 further processed).
  • Middle ear: The middle ear consists 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 picked up by these little hairs which are then transformed into electrical signals. Your cochlea helps here, also. Our brain then receives these electrical signals.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve is located in your ear, and it’s responsible for transmitting and directing this electrical energy towards your brain.
  • Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” includes all of the elements discussed above. The complete hearing process depends on all of these components working in concert with each other. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any problem in one area will usually affect 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 form you experience will depend on the underlying 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. Usually, this blockage is a consequence of fluid or inflammation (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 go back to normal once the blockage is gone.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud noise, the tiny hair cells which pick up sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. Usually, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent type of hearing loss. Because of this, people are usually encouraged to avoid this kind of hearing loss by using ear protection. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated by devices such as hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It sometimes happens that someone will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss simultaneously. This can sometimes be hard to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s relatively rare for someone to develop ANSD. When sound isn’t effectively transmitted from your ear to your brain, this type of hearing loss happens. ANSD can normally be managed with a device known as a cochlear implant.

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

Hearing loss kinds have variations

And that isn’t all! We can break down and categorize these common forms of hearing loss even more specifically. Here are a few examples:

  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that slowly worsens over time is called “progressive”. If your hearing loss arises all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss tends to come and go, it might be referred to as fluctuating. If your hearing loss stays at about the same levels, it’s known as stable.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This tells you whether your hearing loss is equal in both ears or unequal in both ears.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is called pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to talk. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to speak, it’s called post-lingual. This will impact the way hearing loss is addressed.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops as a consequence of outside forces (like damage).
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You might 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. The point is that each categorization helps us more accurately and effectively manage your symptoms.

Time to get a hearing exam

So how can you tell what type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you’re experiencing? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, regrettably, something that is at all accurate. It will be difficult for you to know, for instance, whether your cochlea is functioning correctly.

But you can get a hearing test to determine precisely what’s happening. Your loss of hearing is sort 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 range of modern technology.

So the best way to figure out what’s going on is to make 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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