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 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? It’s sort 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 true with t-shirts and it’s also true with medical conditions, such as hearing loss. There can be numerous reasons why it happens.

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

Hearing loss comes in different kinds

Because hearing is such a complex mental and physical process, no two people’s hearing loss will be exactly the same. Maybe you hear perfectly well at the office, but not in a crowded restaurant. Or perhaps you only have problems 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 presents, in part, might be dictated by what’s causing your symptoms to begin with. Because your ear is a fairly complex little organ, there are any number of things that can go wrong.

How does hearing work?

Before you can totally understand how hearing loss works, or what level 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 generally supposed to work. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Outer ear: This is the visible part of the ear. It’s where you are 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 middle ear comprises your eardrum and several tiny ear bones (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
  • Inner ear: Your stereocilia are found hear. Vibration is picked up by these delicate hairs which are then converted into electrical energy. Your cochlea plays a role in this also. Our brain then receives these electrical signals.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve directs these electrical signals to the brain.
  • Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” includes all of the elements discussed above. It’s essential to recognize that all of these parts are constantly working together and in unison with one another. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any problem in one area will usually impact the performance of the whole system.

Varieties of hearing loss

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

Here are some of the most prevalent causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This form of hearing loss occurs because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often in the outer or middle ear. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this usually occurs). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. Typically, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will go back to normal as soon as the obstruction has been removed.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud noise, the delicate hair cells which pick up sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. Normally, this is a chronic, progressive and irreversible form of hearing loss. Typically, people are encouraged to wear ear protection to avoid this type of hearing loss. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated by devices like hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to experience a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. This can often be difficult to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s fairly rare for someone to develop ANSD. 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 treat this type of hearing loss.

Each form of hearing loss requires a different treatment strategy, but the desired results are usually the same: improving your hearing ability.

Hearing loss kinds have variations

And that isn’t all! We can analyze and categorize these common types of hearing loss even more specifically. Here are some examples:

  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to come and go, it may be referred to as fluctuating. Stable hearing loss stays at about the same level.
  • 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 happens as a consequence of outside forces (such as damage).
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to talk, it’s known as pre-lingual. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to talk. This will impact the way hearing loss is managed.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You might experience more difficulty hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be categorized as one or the other.
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that gradually gets worse over time is called “progressive”. Hearing loss that appears or presents instantly is known as “sudden”.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either experiencing hearing loss in only one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).

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 categories.

A hearing exam is in order

So how can you tell which type, and what sub-type, of hearing loss you’re experiencing? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can accurately diagnose by yourself. It will be difficult for you to know, for instance, whether your cochlea is working correctly.

But that’s what hearing tests 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 determine what type of hearing loss you have.

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