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 try it on, you were disheartened to find that it didn’t fit at all? That’s really annoying. 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. This can be true for many 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 types of hearing loss

Because hearing is such an intricate mental and physical process, no two people’s hearing loss will be exactly the same. Maybe you hear just fine at the office, but not in a crowded restaurant. Or, maybe certain frequencies of sound get lost. Your loss of hearing can take a variety of shapes.

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

How does hearing work?

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

  • Outer ear: This is the part of the ear that you can see. It’s where you are initially exposed to a “sound”. Sounds are efficiently funneled into your middle ear for further processing due to the shape of your outer ear.
  • Middle ear: The middle ear consists 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. These fragile hairs pick up on vibrations and begin converting those vibrations into electrical signals. Your cochlea helps here, too. Our brain then receives this electrical energy.
  • 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 elements discussed above. The total hearing process depends on all of these components working in concert with each other. Usually, 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 form you develop will depend on the root cause.

Here are some of the most prevalent causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This kind of hearing loss occurs because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, frequently in the middle or outer ear. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the reason for this blockage (this typically happens, for instance, when you have an ear infection). Sometimes, conductive hearing loss can be the result of a growth in the ear canal. When the obstruction is eliminated, hearing will normally return 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. This form of hearing loss is usually chronic, progressive, and permanent. Usually, people are encouraged to wear hearing protection to avoid this kind of hearing loss. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated by devices such as hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to experience a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. Because the hearing loss is coming from numerous different places, this can sometimes be difficult to treat.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s relatively rare for someone to develop ANSD. It occurs when the cochlea doesn’t properly transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. A device called a cochlear implant is usually used to treat this kind of hearing loss.

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

Hearing loss kinds have variations

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

  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This indicates whether your hearing loss is the same in both ears or unequal in both ears.
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops as a result of outside causes (like damage).
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either going through hearing loss in only one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to come and go, it may be referred to as fluctuating. If your hearing loss stays at about the same levels, it’s known as stable.
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that gradually worsens over time is called “progressive”. Hearing loss that erupts or shows up immediately is called “sudden”.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You might experience more difficulty hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be categorized as one or the other.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is known as pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to talk. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to speak, it’s known as post-lingual. This will impact the way hearing loss is addressed.

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

Time to get a hearing exam

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

But you can get a hearing exam to determine precisely what’s going on. 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 hook you up to a wide variety of machines, and help establish what type of hearing loss you have.

So give us a call today 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.