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 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 truly annoying. The truth is that there’s virtually nothing in the world that is truly a “one size fits all”. That’s not only relevant with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions like hearing loss. There can be numerous reasons why it happens.

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

Hearing loss comes in different forms

Because hearing is such a complex cognitive and physical process, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely 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 hearing loss can take a wide range of forms.

How your hearing loss shows up, in part, might be dictated by what’s causing your symptoms in the first place. Any number of things can go wrong with an organ as intricate as the ear.

How your hearing works

It’s helpful to get an idea of how hearing is supposed to work before we can figure out what level of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid. Check out this breakdown:

  • Outer ear: This is the visible part of the ear. It’s where you are initially exposed to a “sound”. The shape of your ear helps direct those sounds into your middle ear (where they are processed further).
  • Middle ear: The middle ear consists of your eardrum and a few tiny ear bones (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
  • Inner ear: Your stereocilia are found hear. Vibration is picked up by these delicate hairs which are then transformed into electrical signals. Your cochlea plays a role in this also. Our brain then receives these electrical signals.
  • 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 parts discussed above. It’s essential to understand that all of these elements are continually working together and in concert with each other. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any issue in one area will usually impact the performance of the entire system.

Varieties of hearing loss

There are numerous forms of hearing loss because there are multiple parts of the ear. Which form you develop will depend on the root 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 happens. Usually, this blockage is caused by fluid or inflammation (this typically happens, for instance, when you have an ear infection). 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 your ears are damaged by loud sound, the delicate hair cells which detect sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. This form of hearing loss is typically chronic, progressive, and permanent. Typically, individuals are encouraged to use ear protection to prevent this kind of hearing loss. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, it can be successfully managed with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It sometimes happens that a person will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss simultaneously. This can sometimes be hard to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s relatively rare for someone to develop ANSD. It occurs when the cochlea does not properly transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. A device called a cochlear implant is normally used to treat this kind of hearing loss.

The desired results are the same even though the treatment solution will differ for each type of hearing loss: improving your hearing ability.

Hearing loss types have variations

And there’s more. We can analyze and categorize these common types of hearing loss even more specifically. For example, hearing loss can also be classified as:

  • 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 called post-lingual. This will affect the way hearing loss is treated.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops as a consequence of outside causes (such as damage).
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it slowly worsens over time. If your hearing loss arises all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You might experience more trouble hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be categorized as one or the other.
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss refers to hearing loss that comes and goes. Stable hearing loss remains at around the same level.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This tells you whether your hearing loss is equal in both ears or unequal in both ears.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either experiencing hearing loss in only one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s called “congenital”.

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 classifications.

Time to have a hearing test

So how do you know what type, and what sub-type, of hearing loss you have? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can accurately diagnose by yourself. It will be hard for you to know, for instance, whether your cochlea is working correctly.

But that’s what hearing tests are for! It’s like when you have a check engine light on in your car and you take 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’re dealing with.

So the best way to figure out what’s going on is to make an appointment with us as soon as you can!


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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