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 discouraged to find that it didn’t fit at all? That’s really annoying. The truth is that there’s pretty much nothing in the world that is truly a “one size fits all”. That’s not only true with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions such as hearing loss. There can be a wide variety of reasons why it happens.

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

Hearing loss comes in different forms

Everyone’s hearing loss scenario will be as unique as they are. Maybe when you’re in a crowded restaurant you can’t hear that well, but at work, you hear fine. Or perhaps you only have trouble with high-pitched voices or low-pitched sounds. Your loss of hearing can take a wide range of forms.

How your hearing loss presents, in part, might be determined by what causes your symptoms in the first place. Lots of things can go wrong with an organ as intricate as the ear.

How does hearing work?

It’s useful to get an understanding of how hearing is supposed to work before we can understand what level of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid. Check out this breakdown:

  • Outer ear: This is the part of the ear that you can see. It’s where you’re first exposed to a “sound”. Sounds are efficiently funneled into your middle ear for further processing by the shape of your outer ear.
  • Middle ear: The middle ear is composed of your eardrum and a few tiny ear bones (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
  • Inner ear: Your stereocilia are found hear. These tiny hairs pick up on vibrations and start converting those vibrations 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 channeling and sending this electrical energy to 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 elements working in unison with one another. In other words, the system is interconnected, so any problem in one area will typically impact the performance of the whole system.

Varieties of hearing loss

Because there are numerous parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) numerous forms of hearing loss. The root cause of your hearing loss will determine which kind of hearing loss you develop.

Here are some of the most prevalent causes:

  • 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 caused by fluid or inflammation (this typically happens, for instance, when you have an ear infection). In some cases, 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 as soon as the blockage is gone.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the tiny hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are normally destroyed. Normally, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent form of hearing loss. Because of this, people are usually encouraged to avoid this type of hearing loss by using ear protection. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, it can be successfully treated with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It occasionally happens that someone 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: ANSD is a rather rare condition. When sound isn’t properly transmitted from your ear to your brain, this kind of hearing loss occurs. A device known as a cochlear implant is normally used to treat this type of hearing loss.

Each form of hearing loss requires a different treatment approach, but the desired results are usually the same: to improve or maintain your ability to hear.

Variations on hearing loss kinds

And there’s more. We can analyze and categorize these common types of hearing loss even more specifically. Here are a few examples:

  • 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.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s called “congenital”.
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually gets worse over time. If your hearing loss arises all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss tends to appear and disappear, it may be referred to as fluctuating. If your hearing loss stays at approximately the same levels, it’s called stable.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s known as pre-lingual. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to speak, it’s called post-lingual. This will affect the way hearing loss is treated.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: If your hearing loss is the same in both ears it’s symmetrical and if it’s not the same in both ears it’s asymmetrical.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that happens as a result of outside causes (such as damage).

If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. But your hearing loss will be more effectively managed when we’re able to use these classifications.

A hearing test is in order

So how can you tell what type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you have? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can accurately diagnose by yourself. It will be difficult for you to determine, for example, whether your cochlea is functioning properly.

But you can get a hearing test to find out precisely what’s going on. Your loss of hearing is kind of like a “check engine” light. We can hook you up to a wide variety of machines, and help establish what type of hearing loss you have.

So the best way to understand what’s going on is to schedule an appointment with us as soon as you can!


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.