Are There Different Kinds of Hearing Loss?

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? It’s sort of a bummer, right? The reality is that there’s almost nothing in the world that is really a “one size fits all”. That’s not only relevant with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions like hearing loss. There can be a wide variety of reasons why it happens.

So what causes hearing loss? And what’s the most common kind of hearing loss? Well, that’s precisely what we intend to explore.

Hearing loss comes in different kinds

Because hearing is such an intricate mental and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Maybe when you’re in a crowded restaurant you can’t hear very well, but when you’re at work, you hear fine. Or, maybe specific frequencies of sound get lost. Your hearing loss can take a variety of forms.

How your hearing loss shows up, in part, could be dictated by what causes your symptoms in the first place. Because your ear is a very complex little organ, there are lots of things that can go wrong.

How does hearing work?

It’s helpful to get an idea of how hearing is supposed to work before we can determine what level of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Outer ear: This is the visible part of the ear. It’s where you’re initially exposed to a “sound”. 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: Your stereocilia are found hear. These fragile hairs pick up on vibrations and start translating those vibrations into electrical signals. Your cochlea helps here, also. Our brain then receives these electrical signals.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve directs these electrical signals to the brain.
  • Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” includes all of the parts discussed above. It’s essential to recognize that all of these elements are continually working together and in concert with one another. Typically, in other words, the entire system will be affected if any one part has issues.

Varieties of hearing loss

There are numerous types of hearing loss because there are numerous parts of the ear. Which form you experience will depend on the root cause.

Here are some of the most prevalent causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often the middle or outer ear, this type of hearing loss occurs. Typically, this blockage is a consequence of fluid or inflammation (this usually happens, for instance, when you have an ear infection). Sometimes, conductive hearing loss can be the result of a growth in the ear canal. Typically, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will go back to normal when the blockage is gone.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the delicate hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are normally destroyed. Usually, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent type of hearing loss. As a result, individuals are usually 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 have a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. Because the hearing loss is coming from several different places, this can sometimes be challenging to treat.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a relatively rare condition. It happens when the cochlea does not effectively transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. ANSD can normally be treated with a device called a cochlear implant.

The desired results are the same even though the treatment option will differ for each form of hearing loss: improving your hearing ability.

Variations on hearing loss kinds

And that’s not all! We can break down and categorize these common forms of hearing loss even more specifically. Here are a few examples:

  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This tells you whether your hearing loss is equal in both ears or unequal in both ears.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to experience hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss refers to hearing loss that appears and disappears. If your hearing loss stays at approximately the same levels, it’s known as stable.
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually gets worse over time. If your hearing loss happens all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you develop hearing loss as a result of outside causes, like damage, it’s called “acquired”.
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be classified as one or the other depending on which frequency range is getting lost.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to talk, it’s known as pre-lingual. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to talk, it’s called post-lingual. This can have ramifications for treatment and adaptation.

That might seem like a lot, and it is. But your hearing loss will be more effectively managed when we’re able to use these classifications.

A hearing exam is in order

So how do you know what type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you have? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can accurately diagnose by yourself. For instance, is your cochlea functioning correctly, how would you know?

But that’s what hearing tests 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 hooking you up to a wide variety of modern technology.

So the best way to determine what’s happening 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.