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? That’s truly aggravating. There aren’t really very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. That’s a fact with t-shirts and it’s also true with medical conditions, like hearing loss. There can be many reasons why it happens.

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

Hearing loss comes in different types

Because hearing is such a complex mental and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be exactly the same. Perhaps you hear perfectly well at the office, but not in a noisy restaurant. Or, maybe certain frequencies of sound get lost. Your loss of hearing can take a wide range of forms.

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

How your hearing works

Before you can thoroughly understand how hearing loss works, or what degree of hearing loss requires 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 visible portion of the ear. It’s the initial sound receiver. Sounds are efficiently guided 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, there are some tiny little bones in there).
  • Inner ear: This is where your stereocilia are found. These tiny hairs detect vibrations and begin translating those vibrations into electrical signals. Your cochlea helps here, also. Our brain then receives this electrical energy.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve directs these electrical signals to the brain.
  • Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” encompasses all of the elements discussed above. The total hearing process depends on all of these components working in unison with each other. Usually, in other words, the whole system will be impacted if any one part has issues.

Varieties of hearing loss

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

The common types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, usually the middle or outer ear, this form of hearing loss occurs. Usually, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this typically occurs). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. Normally, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will go back to normal when the obstruction has been removed.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud sound, the fragile hair cells which detect sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. This type of hearing loss is usually chronic, progressive, and irreversible. Because of this, individuals are normally 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’s also possible to experience a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. Because the hearing loss is coming from numerous different places, this can sometimes be challenging to treat.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s fairly rare for someone to develop ANSD. It takes place when the cochlea doesn’t effectively transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. ANSD can normally be managed with a device known as a cochlear implant.

Each form of hearing loss calls for a different treatment method, but the desired results are often the same: improving your hearing ability.

Variations on hearing loss types

And that isn’t all! Any of these common types of hearing loss can be categorized further (and with more specificity). Here are a few examples:

  • High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be classified as one or the other depending on what frequency range is getting lost.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss describes hearing loss that appears and disappears. If your hearing loss stays at approximately the same levels, it’s known as stable.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is known as pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to talk. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to talk. This can have ramifications for treatment and adaptation.
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that gradually worsens over time is called “progressive”. Hearing loss that appears or shows up instantly is known as “sudden”.
  • 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.
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss because of outside causes, like damage, it’s called “acquired”.

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 categories.

Time to get a hearing test

So how can you be sure which of these classifications applies to your hearing loss situation? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, unfortunately, something that is at all accurate. It will be hard for you to know, for example, whether your cochlea is working correctly.

But that’s what hearing examinations 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 help you determine what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with by connecting you to a wide range of modern technology.

So give us a call today and schedule 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.

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