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 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 frustrating. The truth is that there’s virtually 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, such as hearing loss. There can be numerous reasons why it happens.

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

Hearing loss comes in different types

Everyone’s hearing loss situation will be as individual as they are. Perhaps when you’re in a noisy restaurant you can’t hear that well, but when you’re at work, you hear just fine. Or, perhaps specific frequencies of sound get lost. There are a wide variety of forms that your hearing loss can take.

How your hearing loss shows up, in part, might be determined by what causes your symptoms to begin with. Lots of things can go wrong with an organ as intricate as the ear.

How does hearing work?

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

  • Outer ear: This is the visible portion of the ear. It’s the initial sound receiver. The shape of your ear helps funnel those sounds into your middle ear (where they are further processed).
  • Middle ear: The eardrum and a few 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. These delicate hairs detect vibrations and begin converting those vibrations 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: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” encompasses all of the elements discussed above. The complete hearing process depends on all of these parts working in concert with one another. In other words, the system is interconnected, so any issue in one area will usually impact the performance of the whole system.

Hearing loss types

There are numerous forms of hearing loss because there are multiple parts of the ear. The underlying cause of your hearing loss will determine which kind of hearing loss you experience.

Here are some of the most common causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This kind of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often in the middle or outer ear. Usually, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (this usually happens, for instance, when you have an ear infection). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. Once the blockage is removed, hearing will normally go back to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud sound, the tiny hair cells which detect sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. This type of hearing loss is typically chronic, progressive, and permanent. Because of this, people are usually encouraged to prevent this type of hearing loss by using hearing 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 numerous different places, this can sometimes be challenging to manage.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a relatively rare condition. When sound is not effectively transmitted from your ear to your brain, this kind of hearing loss happens. ANSD can normally be treated with a device known as a cochlear implant.

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

Hearing loss kinds have variations

And there’s more. Any of these normal types of hearing loss can be further categorized (and more specifically). Here are some examples:

  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss tends to appear and disappear, it might be referred to as fluctuating. Stable hearing loss remains at relatively the same level.
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss due to outside causes, such as damage, it’s called “acquired”.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to talk, it’s called pre-lingual. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to talk. This can have ramifications for treatment and adaptation.
  • 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.
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either going through hearing loss in only one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You might have more difficulty hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be classified as one or the other.
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually worsens over time. If your hearing loss occurs all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.

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

A hearing test is in order

So how can you tell which of these categories applies to your hearing loss scenario? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, regrettably, something that’s at all accurate. It will be difficult for you to determine, for instance, whether your cochlea is functioning properly.

But you can get a hearing test to find out precisely what’s going on. Your loss of hearing is sort 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 the best way to determine what’s happening is to make an appointment with us as soon as you can!


The content of this blog is the intellectual property of and is reprinted here with permission. The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive a hearing aid consultation, call today to schedule an appointment.