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 seen a t-shirt promoted as “one size fits all” but when you went to try it on, you were discouraged to find that it didn’t fit at all? That’s really aggravating. There aren’t really very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. 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 occurs.

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

There are different kinds of hearing loss

Everyone’s hearing loss scenario will be as unique as they are. Maybe you hear perfectly well at the office, but not in a noisy restaurant. Or maybe you only have difficulty with high or low-pitched sounds. Your hearing loss can take a variety of forms.

How your hearing loss presents, in part, could be dictated by what causes your symptoms to begin with. Because your ear is a fairly complex little organ, there are any number of things that can go wrong.

How does hearing work?

Before you can thoroughly understand how hearing loss works, or what level of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid, it’s helpful to consider how things are supposed to work, how your ear is usually 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 effectively guided into your middle ear for further processing due to the shape of your outer ear.
  • Middle ear: The eardrum and some 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 tiny hairs detect vibrations and begin converting those vibrations into electrical signals. Your cochlea plays a part in this too. Our brain then receives this electrical energy.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve sends 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. It’s important to recognize that all of these components are constantly working together and in concert with each other. Typically, in other words, the entire system will be affected if any one part has issues.

Hearing loss varieties

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

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 form of hearing loss occurs. Typically, this blockage is due to fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for example, this usually happens). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. When the obstruction is removed, hearing will usually go back to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the fragile hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are normally destroyed. This type of hearing loss is usually chronic, progressive, and permanent. As a result, people are normally encouraged to prevent this type of hearing loss by wearing ear protection. If you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be managed by devices such as hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It sometimes happens that a person 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 relatively rare for someone to develop ANSD. When sound isn’t effectively transmitted from your ear to your brain, this type of hearing loss happens. A device known as a cochlear implant is usually used to manage this kind of hearing loss.

The desired results are the same even though the treatment option will differ for each type of hearing loss: to improve or preserve your ability to hear.

Hearing loss kinds have variations

And there’s more. We can break down and categorize these common forms of hearing loss even more specifically. For instance, hearing loss can also be classified as:

  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
  • 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 develops as a consequence of outside causes (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 known as “sudden”.
  • 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 describes hearing loss that appears and disappears. Stable hearing loss remains at around the same level.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s known as pre-lingual. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to speak. This can have implications for treatment and adaptation.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be categorized as one or the other depending on what frequency range is getting lost.

That may seem like a lot, and it is. The point is that each categorization helps us more precisely and effectively manage your symptoms.

Time to get a hearing exam

So how do you know what type, and what sub-type, of hearing loss you have? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, regrettably, something that’s at all accurate. It will be hard for you to determine, for example, whether your cochlea is functioning properly.

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

So give us a call as soon as you can and schedule an appointment to figure out what’s going on.


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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