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 dismayed (and shocked) when the shirt doesn’t, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s kind of a bummer, isn’t it? There aren’t actually 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, such as hearing loss. This can be accurate for numerous reasons.

So what causes hearing loss? And what is the most prevalent type of hearing loss? Well, that’s exactly what we intend to find out.

Hearing loss comes in different kinds

Because hearing is such a complex cognitive and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be exactly the same. Maybe when you’re in a noisy restaurant you can’t hear very well, but when you’re at work, you hear fine. Or maybe you only have difficulty with high or low-pitched sounds. Your loss of hearing 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 useful to get an idea of how hearing is supposed to work before we can determine what degree of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid. Check out this breakdown:

  • Outer ear: This is the visible portion of the ear. 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 middle ear is composed of your eardrum and a few tiny ear bones (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
  • Inner ear: This is where your stereocilia are found. These fragile hairs pick up on vibrations and begin converting those vibrations into electrical energy. Your cochlea plays a part in this too. Our brain then receives these electrical signals.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve is inside of your ear, and it’s responsible for transmitting and sending this electrical energy to your brain.
  • Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” encompasses all of the parts discussed above. The total hearing process depends on all of these components working in unison with each other. Typically, in other words, the whole system will be impacted if any one part has issues.

Hearing loss types

There are numerous forms of hearing loss because there are multiple parts of the ear. Which type you experience will depend on the underlying cause.

Here are some of the most common causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, usually the middle or outer ear, this form of hearing loss happens. Usually, this blockage is caused by fluid or inflammation (this typically happens, for example, when you have an ear infection). Sometimes, conductive hearing loss can be caused by a growth in the ear canal. Typically, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will go back to normal as soon as the blockage has been removed.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud sound, the fragile hair cells which pick up sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. Normally, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent form of hearing loss. As a result, individuals are usually encouraged to prevent this type of hearing loss by wearing hearing protection. If you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated by devices such as hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It sometimes happens that somebody will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss at the same time. This can often be challenging 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 doesn’t properly transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. ANSD can normally be treated with a device called a cochlear implant.

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

Variations on hearing loss types

And there’s more. We can break down and categorize these common types of hearing loss even more specifically. Here are some examples:

  • 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 remains at roughly the same levels, it’s called stable.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You may have more trouble hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be categorized as one or the other.
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops due to outside forces (such as damage).
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that slowly worsens over time is called “progressive”. If your hearing loss happens all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This indicates whether your hearing loss is equal in both ears or unequal in both ears.
  • 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 can have implications for treatment and adaptation.

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

A hearing test is in order

So how can you tell which of these categories pertains to your hearing loss scenario? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can self-diagnose with much accuracy. It will be hard for you to know, for instance, whether your cochlea is functioning properly.

But that’s what hearing examinations are for! Your loss of hearing is sort of like a “check engine” light. We can help you identify what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with by hooking you up to a wide range of modern technology.

So the best way to determine what’s going on is to schedule 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.

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