How Many Different Types 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 advertised as “one size fits all” but when you went to put it on, you were disheartened 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 really a “one size fits all”. That’s a fact with t-shirts and it’s also true with medical conditions, like hearing loss. There can be numerous reasons why it happens.

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

There are different kinds of hearing loss

Because hearing is such an intricate cognitive and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Maybe you hear just fine at the office, but not in a crowded restaurant. Or, maybe specific frequencies of sound get lost. Your hearing loss can take a wide variety of forms.

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

How your hearing works

Before you can completely understand how hearing loss works, or what degree of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid, it’s helpful to think a bit about how things are supposed to work, how your ear is typically supposed to work. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Outer ear: This is the part of the ear that’s visible. It’s the initial sound receiver. Sounds are efficiently funneled into your middle ear for further processing by the shape of your outer ear.
  • 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. Vibration is detected by these delicate hairs which are then transformed into electrical energy. Your cochlea helps here, too. Our brain then receives these electrical signals.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve directs these electrical signals to the brain.
  • Auditory system: All of the elements listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are elements of your “auditory system”. The overall hearing process depends on all of these elements working in unison with each other. Typically, in other words, the whole system will be affected if any one part has issues.

Types of hearing loss

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

Here are some of the most common causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This form of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often in the middle or outer ear. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the reason for this blockage (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this typically occurs). In some cases, conductive hearing loss can be caused by a growth in the ear canal. Once the obstruction is removed, hearing will usually go back to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the fragile hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are usually destroyed. Usually, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent form of hearing loss. Typically, people are encouraged to use ear protection to avoid this kind of hearing loss. If you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated by devices such as hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It occasionally happens that a person will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss at the same time. 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 somebody to develop ANSD. It takes place when the cochlea does not effectively transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. A device known as a cochlear implant is normally used to manage this kind of hearing loss.

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

Variations on hearing loss kinds

And that’s not all! Any of these common types of hearing loss can be categorized further (and more specifically). Here are a few examples:

  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is known as pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to talk. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to talk, it’s known as post-lingual. This will affect the way hearing loss is addressed.
  • 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.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be classified as one or the other depending on which frequency range is getting lost.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either going through hearing loss in only one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you develop hearing loss because of external causes, such as damage, it’s called “acquired”.
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that gradually gets worse over time is called “progressive”. If your hearing loss happens all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to come and go, it might be referred to as fluctuating. If your hearing loss stays at roughly the same levels, it’s called stable.
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.

That may seem like a lot, and it is. The point is that each classification helps us more accurately and effectively treat your symptoms.

A hearing test is in order

So how can you be sure which of these classifications applies to your hearing loss scenario? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, regrettably, something that’s at all accurate. As an example, is your cochlea functioning correctly, how would you know?

But you can get a hearing test to determine precisely what’s happening. Your loss of hearing is sort of like a “check engine” light. We can help you figure out what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with by connecting you to a wide variety of modern technology.

So the best way to figure out 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.