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 surprised) when the shirt does not, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s sort of a bummer, isn’t it? The fact is that there’s pretty much nothing in the world that is truly a “one size fits all”. That’s not only true with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions such as hearing loss. This can be true for many reasons.

So what’s the cause of hearing loss? And what is the most common type of hearing loss? Let’s see what we can find out!

Hearing loss comes in different types

Everybody’s hearing loss scenario will be as unique as they are. Perhaps when you’re in a noisy restaurant you can’t hear very well, but at work, you hear fine. Or, perhaps specific frequencies of sound get lost. Your hearing loss can take a variety of forms.

The root cause of your hearing loss will dictate how it manifests. Any number of things can go wrong with an organ as intricate as the ear.

How your hearing works

Before you can totally understand how hearing loss works, or what level 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 generally supposed to work. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Outer ear: This is the portion of the ear that’s visible. It’s where you are first exposed to a “sound”. 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 several tiny ear bones (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
  • Inner ear: This is where your stereocilia are found. Vibration is picked up by these fragile hairs which are then transformed into electrical energy. Your cochlea plays a role in this too. This electrical energy is then sent to your brain.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve sends these electrical signals to the brain.
  • Auditory system: All of the parts listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are elements of your “auditory system”. It’s essential to recognize that all of these components are continually working together and in concert with each other. Typically, in other words, the entire system will be affected if any one part has problems.

Hearing loss types

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

The common types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This kind of hearing loss occurs because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often in the outer or middle ear. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the reason for this blockage (this usually happens, for instance, when you have an ear infection). In some cases, conductive hearing loss can be caused by a growth in the ear canal. When the obstruction is removed, hearing will normally go back to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud noise, the delicate hair cells which pick up sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. Normally, this is a chronic, progressive and irreversible form of hearing loss. Typically, individuals are encouraged to wear hearing protection to prevent 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 somebody will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss simultaneously. This can sometimes be challenging to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s fairly rare for somebody to develop ANSD. When sound isn’t effectively transmitted from your ear to your brain, this type of hearing loss occurs. ANSD can normally be managed with a device called a cochlear implant.

Each form of hearing loss requires a different treatment strategy, but the desired results are usually the same: to improve or preserve your ability to hear.

Hearing loss kinds have variations

And that isn’t all! We can analyze and categorize these common forms of hearing loss even more specifically. Here are a few examples:

  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss refers to hearing loss that comes and goes. Stable hearing loss stays at about the same level.
  • 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 ramifications for treatment and adaptation.
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss due to outside forces, such as damage, it’s known as “acquired”.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This tells you whether your hearing loss is the same in both ears or unequal in both ears.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You may experience more trouble hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be classified as one or the other.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to experience hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it slowly gets worse over time. If your hearing loss happens all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.

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

A hearing exam is in order

So how do you know which type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you’re experiencing? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, regrettably, something that is at all accurate. It will be difficult for you to know, for instance, whether your cochlea is working correctly.

But that’s what hearing tests are for! Your loss of hearing is kind 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 call us as soon as you can and make 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.