How Many Different Types 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 promoted 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? It’s kind of a bummer, right? 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 such as hearing loss. This can be accurate for numerous reasons.

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

There are different forms of hearing loss

Everyone’s hearing loss scenario will be as individual as they are. Perhaps you hear just fine at the office, but not in a crowded restaurant. Or, maybe specific frequencies of sound get lost. There are numerous forms that your hearing loss can take.

How your hearing loss presents, in part, may be determined by what’s causing your symptoms to begin with. Lots of things can go wrong with an organ as intricate as the ear.

How your hearing works

It’s useful to get an understanding of how hearing is supposed to work before we can understand what degree of hearing loss requires a hearing aid. Check out this breakdown:

  • Outer ear: This is the portion of the ear that’s visible. It’s the initial sound receiver. Sounds are effectively funneled 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, you have bones in your ear, but they are admittedly very, very tiny).
  • Inner ear: This is where your stereocilia are found. These tiny hairs detect vibrations and start translating 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” includes all of the parts discussed above. The total hearing process depends on all of these elements working in concert with one another. Usually, in other words, the whole system will be impacted if any one part has problems.

Types of hearing loss

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

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 form of hearing loss occurs. Typically, this blockage is caused by fluid or inflammation (this typically happens, for example, when you have an ear infection). 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 blockage is gone.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud sound, the delicate hair cells which detect sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. Normally, this is a chronic, progressive and irreversible type of hearing loss. Usually, individuals are encouraged to use hearing protection to prevent this kind of hearing loss. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, it can be effectively managed with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to have a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. This can often be difficult to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s relatively rare for somebody to develop ANSD. When sound isn’t properly transmitted from your ear to your brain, this kind of hearing loss occurs. A device called a cochlear implant is normally used to manage this type of hearing loss.

The desired results are the same even though the treatment solution will vary for each form of hearing loss: to improve or maintain your ability to hear.

Variations on hearing loss kinds

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

  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s known as pre-lingual. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to talk, it’s called post-lingual. This will impact the way hearing loss is treated.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This tells you whether your hearing loss is equal in both ears or unequal in both ears.
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it slowly gets worse over time. Hearing loss that erupts or presents immediately is known as “sudden”.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You may have more difficulty hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be categorized as one or the other.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s called “congenital”.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either going through hearing loss in just one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss describes hearing loss that comes and goes. If your hearing loss remains at approximately the same levels, it’s called stable.
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss due to outside forces, like damage, it’s known as “acquired”.

If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. But your hearing loss will be more successfully managed when we’re able to use these categories.

Time to get a hearing test

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

But you can get a hearing exam to determine precisely what’s happening. It’s like when you have a check engine light on in your car and you bring it to a qualified auto technician. We can connect you to a wide variety of machines, and help identify what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with.

So call us today and make an appointment to find 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.