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, right? The reality is that there’s pretty much nothing in the world that is really a “one size fits all”. That’s true with t-shirts and it’s also true with medical conditions, like hearing loss. This can be true for many reasons.

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

Hearing loss comes in different kinds

Because hearing is such an intricate mental and physical process, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Perhaps when you’re in a crowded restaurant you can’t hear very well, but at work, you hear fine. Or, maybe certain frequencies of sound get lost. Your hearing loss can take a wide variety of forms.

The underlying cause of your hearing loss will determine how it manifests. Because your ear is a fairly 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 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 portion of the ear that you can see. 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 eardrum and several 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: Your stereocilia are found hear. These tiny hairs detect vibrations and begin converting those vibrations into electrical energy. Your cochlea plays a role in this too. This electrical energy is then carried to your brain.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve sends these electrical signals to the brain.
  • Auditory system: All of the components listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are elements of your “auditory system”. It’s essential to recognize that all of these components are continually working together and in unison with one another. Typically, in other words, the entire system will be impacted if any one part has issues.

Varieties of hearing loss

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

The common types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often the middle or outer ear, this type of hearing loss occurs. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the reason for this blockage (when you have an ear infection, for example, this usually occurs). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. When the blockage is removed, hearing will usually go back to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud sound, the tiny hair cells which detect sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. Usually, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent form of hearing loss. As a result, people are usually encouraged to prevent this kind of hearing loss by wearing ear protection. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be managed by devices such as hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It sometimes happens that somebody will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss simultaneously. Because the hearing loss is coming from numerous different places, this can sometimes be challenging to manage.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s fairly rare for someone to develop ANSD. When sound isn’t properly transmitted from your ear to your brain, this kind of hearing loss happens. A device called a cochlear implant is normally used to manage this kind of hearing loss.

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

Variations on hearing loss types

And that isn’t all! Any of these normal kinds of hearing loss can be further categorized (and more specifically). Here are a few examples:

  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s known as pre-lingual. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to speak. This will affect the way hearing loss is treated.
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss tends to come and go, it might be referred to as fluctuating. Stable hearing loss remains at relatively the same level.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that happens as a result of outside forces (such as damage).
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either going through hearing loss in only one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be classified as one or the other depending on which frequency range is getting lost.
  • 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.
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that gradually gets worse over time is called “progressive”. Hearing loss that appears or shows up instantly is known as “sudden”.

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

Time to have a hearing exam

So how do you know which type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you’re experiencing? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can self-diagnose with much accuracy. As an example, is your cochlea functioning properly, how would you know?

But that’s what hearing exams are for! It’s like when you have a check engine light on in your car and you take it to a skilled auto technician. We can hook you up to a wide variety of machines, and help determine what type of hearing loss you have.

So contact us as soon as you can and schedule an appointment to figure 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.