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 try it on, you were discouraged to find that it didn’t fit at all? It’s kind of a bummer, isn’t it? There aren’t actually very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. That’s true with t-shirts and it’s also true with medical conditions, such as hearing loss. This can be accurate for many reasons.

So what’s the cause of hearing loss? And what’s the most common kind of hearing loss? Well, that’s exactly what we intend to explore.

Hearing loss comes in different types

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 noisy restaurant. Or, perhaps specific frequencies of sound get lost. Your loss of hearing can take a wide variety of shapes.

The underlying cause of your hearing loss will dictate how it manifests. Because your ear is a fairly complex little organ, there are lots of things that can go wrong.

How your hearing works

Before you can totally understand how hearing loss works, or what level of hearing loss requires a hearing aid, it’s helpful to consider how things are supposed to function, how your ear is usually supposed to work. 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 direct those sounds into your middle ear (where they are further processed).
  • Middle ear: The middle ear comprises your eardrum and a few tiny ear bones (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
  • Inner ear: This is where your stereocilia are found. These tiny hairs detect vibrations and start translating those vibrations into electrical signals. Your cochlea helps here, too. Our brain then receives this electrical energy.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve sends these electrical signals to the brain.
  • Auditory system: All of the elements listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are components of your “auditory system”. The complete hearing process depends on all of these elements working in unison with one another. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any issue in one area will usually impact the performance of the whole system.

Varieties of hearing loss

Because there are multiple parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) numerous types of hearing loss. Which type you develop will depend on the underlying cause.

Here are some of the most prevalent causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This kind of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often in the outer or middle ear. Typically, this blockage is due to fluid or inflammation (this typically happens, for example, when you have an ear infection). In some cases, conductive hearing loss can be the result of a growth in the ear canal. Typically, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will go back to normal when the blockage has been removed.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the tiny hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are usually destroyed. This form of hearing loss is usually chronic, progressive, and permanent. Typically, people are encouraged to use hearing protection to prevent this kind of hearing loss. If you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be managed by devices like hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to have a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. This can sometimes be challenging 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 is not properly transmitted from your ear to your brain, this type of hearing loss happens. A device called a cochlear implant is normally used to manage this type of hearing loss.

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 that’s not all! We can analyze and categorize these common types of hearing loss even more specifically. For example, hearing loss can also be classified as:

  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to experience hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You might have more trouble hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be categorized as one or the other.
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to appear and disappear, it may be referred to as fluctuating. Stable hearing loss remains at relatively the same level.
  • 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 worsens over time. If your hearing loss happens all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
  • 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 develop hearing loss as a result of external causes, such as damage, it’s known as “acquired”.

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

A hearing exam is in order

So how can you tell which of these categories applies to your hearing loss scenario? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can accurately diagnose by yourself. It will be difficult for you to know, for example, whether your cochlea is functioning correctly.

But that’s what hearing examinations are for! Your loss of hearing is sort of like a “check engine” light. We can help you figure out what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with by connecting you to a wide variety of modern technology.

So contact us as soon as you can and schedule an appointment to find 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.

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