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 surprised) when the shirt doesn’t, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s kind of a bummer, isn’t it? The truth is that there’s virtually 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, like hearing loss. There can be numerous reasons why it happens.

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

There are different types of hearing loss

Everybody’s hearing loss situation will be as individual as they are. Perhaps you hear perfectly well at the office, but not in a crowded restaurant. Or, maybe specific frequencies of sound get lost. Your hearing loss can take a wide range of shapes.

How your hearing loss shows up, in part, might be dictated by what’s causing your symptoms to begin with. Lots of things can go wrong with an organ as complex as the ear.

How your hearing works

Before you can totally understand how hearing loss works, or what level of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid, it’s practical to consider how things are supposed to work, 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 where you are first exposed to a “sound”. The shape of your ear helps funnel those sounds into your middle ear (where they are processed further).
  • Middle ear: The middle ear comprises your eardrum and a few tiny ear bones (yes, you have bones in your ear, but they are admittedly very, very tiny).
  • Inner ear: This is where your stereocilia are found. These delicate hairs pick up on vibrations and begin translating those vibrations into electrical signals. Your cochlea plays a part in this too. Our brain then receives this electrical energy.
  • 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” encompasses all of the parts discussed above. The complete hearing process depends on all of these elements working in unison with each other. Typically, in other words, the entire system will be impacted if any one part has issues.

Types of hearing loss

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

The prevalent types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This form of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often in the outer or middle ear. Usually, this blockage is a consequence of fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for example, this typically happens). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. When the obstruction is eliminated, hearing will normally return to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud sound, the tiny hair cells which detect sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. Normally, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent form of hearing loss. Because of this, individuals are usually encouraged to prevent this kind of hearing loss by wearing hearing protection. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, it can be successfully treated with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to experience a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. Because the hearing loss is coming from several different places, this can sometimes be difficult to treat.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a rather rare condition. When sound is not effectively transmitted from your ear to your brain, this kind of hearing loss occurs. ANSD can normally be managed with a device called a cochlear implant.

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

Hearing loss kinds have variations

And there’s more. Any of these common kinds of hearing loss can be further categorized (and with more specificity). Here are some examples:

  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that happens due to outside causes (such as damage).
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s called pre-lingual. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to talk. This can have implications for treatment and adaptation.
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually gets worse over time. If your hearing loss occurs all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to appear and disappear, it might be referred to as fluctuating. If your hearing loss stays at approximately the same levels, it’s called stable.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to experience hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • 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.
  • 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.

If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. The point is that each classification helps us more accurately and effectively manage your symptoms.

A hearing test is in order

So how can you tell which of these categories pertains to your hearing loss situation? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can self-diagnose with much accuracy. For instance, 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 bring it to a skilled auto technician. We can connect you to a wide variety of machines, and help identify what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with.

So contact us today and make an appointment to figure 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.

Stop struggling to hear conversations. Come see us today. Call or Text