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 purchased 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 really very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. That’s a fact with t-shirts and it’s also relevant with medical conditions, like hearing loss. There can be numerous reasons why it occurs.

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

Hearing loss comes in different forms

Everybody’s hearing loss situation will be as unique as they are. Perhaps you hear just fine at the office, but not in a noisy restaurant. Or, perhaps certain frequencies of sound get lost. Your hearing loss can take a variety of shapes.

The root cause of your hearing loss will determine how it manifests. Lots of things can go wrong with an organ as intricate as the ear.

How your hearing works

It’s helpful to get an understanding of how hearing is supposed to work before we can understand what degree of hearing loss requires a hearing aid. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Outer ear: This is the portion of the ear that’s visible. It’s where you’re initially exposed to a “sound”. The shape of your ear helps direct those sounds into your middle ear (where they are further processed).
  • Middle ear: The eardrum and some tiny bones are what your middle ear is composed of (yes, you have bones in your ear, but they are admittedly very, very tiny).
  • Inner ear: This is where your stereocilia are found. Vibration is picked up by these fragile hairs which are then transformed into electrical signals. Your cochlea plays a part in this also. Our brain then receives these electrical signals.
  • 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: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” encompasses all of the elements discussed above. The overall hearing process depends on all of these parts working in unison with one another. Usually, in other words, the whole system will be affected if any one part has problems.

Types 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 type of hearing loss you experience.

The common types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This form of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, frequently in the outer or middle ear. Normally, this blockage is due to fluid or inflammation (this typically happens, for example, when you have an ear infection). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. Usually, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will go back to normal when the obstruction is gone.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud sound, the delicate hair cells which detect sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. This form of hearing loss is typically chronic, progressive, and permanent. Usually, individuals are encouraged to wear ear protection to prevent this kind of hearing loss. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, it can be successfully managed with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It sometimes happens that a person will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss at the same time. This can often be difficult to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s relatively rare for someone to develop ANSD. It happens when the cochlea doesn’t effectively transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. A device known as a cochlear implant is usually used to manage this kind of hearing loss.

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

Hearing loss types have variations

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

  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that gradually gets worse over time is called “progressive”. If your hearing loss occurs all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
  • 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 speak. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to talk. This can have ramifications for treatment and adaptation.
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss due to outside causes, like damage, it’s called “acquired”.
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to come and go, it might 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: It’s possible to experience hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be categorized as one or the other depending on which frequency range is getting lost.

That might seem like a lot, and it is. The point is that each categorization helps us more precisely and effectively treat your symptoms.

A hearing exam is in order

So how do you know what type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you have? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can accurately diagnose by yourself. For instance, is your cochlea working correctly, how would you know?

But that’s what hearing examinations are for! Your loss of hearing is kind of like a “check engine” light. We can connect you to a wide range of machines, and help establish what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with.

So give us a call as soon as you can and schedule an appointment to find out what’s happening.


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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