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 truly frustrating. There aren’t really very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. That’s not only true with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions like hearing loss. There can be a wide variety of reasons why it occurs.

So what causes hearing loss? And what’s the most prevalent kind of hearing loss? Let’s see what we can find out!

There are different types of hearing loss

Because hearing is such a complex cognitive and physical process, no two people’s hearing loss will be exactly the same. Maybe you hear perfectly well at the office, but not in a noisy restaurant. Or maybe you only have difficulty with high or low-pitched sounds. There are a wide variety of 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. Any number of things can go wrong with an organ as intricate as the ear.

How does hearing work?

Before you can completely understand how hearing loss works, or what degree of hearing loss requires a hearing aid, it’s practical to consider how things are supposed to work, how your ear is typically 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 funnel those sounds into your middle ear (where they are processed further).
  • Middle ear: The middle ear is composed 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. Vibration is detected by these delicate hairs which are then transformed into electrical signals. Your cochlea plays a role in this also. These electrical signals are then transmitted to your brain.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve sends these electrical signals to the brain.
  • Auditory system: All of the components listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are components of your “auditory system”. The total hearing process depends on all of these elements working in unison with each other. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any issue in one area will usually impact the performance of the whole system.

Types of hearing loss

Because there are multiple parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) multiple types of hearing loss. The root cause of your hearing loss will determine which kind of hearing loss you experience.

Here are some of the most prevalent causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This type of hearing loss occurs because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often in the outer or middle ear. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this usually occurs). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. Normally, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will return to normal once the blockage has been removed.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the tiny hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are usually destroyed. Normally, this is a chronic, progressive and irreversible type of hearing loss. Because of this, individuals are normally encouraged to prevent this type of hearing loss by using ear protection. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated by devices such as hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It sometimes happens that a person will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss simultaneously. This can often be challenging to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a fairly rare condition. It takes place when the cochlea does not properly transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. ANSD can usually be treated with a device called a cochlear implant.

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

Variations on hearing loss types

And there’s more. Any of these normal kinds of hearing loss can be categorized further (and with more specificity). For example, hearing loss can also be classified as:

  • Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss because of outside causes, like damage, it’s called “acquired”.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This tells you whether your hearing loss is equal in both ears or unequal in both ears.
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss tends to come and go, it may be referred to as fluctuating. Stable hearing loss remains at relatively the same level.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s known as pre-lingual. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to speak. This will affect the way hearing loss is managed.
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that slowly gets worse over time is called “progressive”. Hearing loss that erupts or shows up instantly is called “sudden”.
  • 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: Your hearing loss can be categorized as one or the other depending on what frequency range is getting lost.

That may seem like a lot, and it is. The point is that each classification helps us more accurately and effectively treat your symptoms.

Time to have a hearing aid discovery test

So how can you tell what 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 difficult for you to determine, for instance, whether your cochlea is functioning correctly.

But that’s what hearing exams are for! 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 help you figure out what type of hearing loss you have by hooking you up to a wide variety of modern technology.

So the best way to figure out what’s going on is to schedule 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.