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 discouraged to find that it didn’t fit at all? It’s sort of a bummer, right? The fact is that there’s pretty much nothing in the world that is really a “one size fits all”. That’s not only relevant with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions such as hearing loss. There can be many reasons why it happens.

So what’s the cause of hearing loss? And what is the most prevalent type 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 noisy restaurant. Or perhaps you only have trouble with high or low-pitched sounds. Your loss of hearing can take a wide variety of shapes.

The root cause of your hearing loss will determine how it manifests. Because your ear is a very complex little organ, there are any number of things that can go wrong.

How does hearing work?

Before you can completely understand how hearing loss works, or what degree of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid, it’s helpful to think a bit about how things are supposed to work, how your ear is usually supposed to work. Check out this breakdown:

  • Outer ear: This is the visible portion of the ear. It’s where you are first exposed to a “sound”. The shape of your ear helps funnel those sounds into your middle ear (where they are further processed).
  • Middle ear: The eardrum and a few tiny bones are what your middle ear is composed of (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
  • Inner ear: This is where your stereocilia are found. These delicate hairs detect vibrations and start translating those vibrations into electrical signals. Your cochlea plays a role in this too. These electrical signals are then sent to your brain.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve is inside of your ear, and it’s responsible for transmitting and directing this electrical energy towards your brain.
  • Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” encompasses all of the parts discussed above. It’s important to recognize that all of these elements are constantly working together and in unison with one another. Usually, in other words, the whole system will be affected if any one part has issues.

Varieties of hearing loss

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

The prevalent types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, usually the middle or outer ear, this type of hearing loss occurs. Usually, fluid or inflammation is the reason for this blockage (when you have an ear infection, for example, this typically happens). In some cases, conductive hearing loss can be caused by a growth in the ear canal. Typically, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will return to normal once the obstruction is gone.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud sound, the tiny hair cells which detect sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. Usually, this is a chronic, progressive and irreversible type of hearing loss. Typically, individuals are encouraged to use hearing protection to prevent this type 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 somebody will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss at the same time. Because the hearing loss is coming from numerous different places, this can sometimes be difficult to treat.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a relatively rare condition. When sound isn’t effectively transmitted from your ear to your brain, this kind of hearing loss happens. A device called a cochlear implant is normally used to manage this type of hearing loss.

Each type of hearing loss calls for a different treatment strategy, but the desired results are usually the same: to improve or maintain your ability to hear.

Hearing loss kinds have variations

And that’s not all! Any of these common types of hearing loss can be further categorized (and with more specificity). Here are a few examples:

  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss refers to hearing loss that appears and disappears. Stable hearing loss stays at around the same level.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This indicates whether your hearing loss is the same in both ears or unequal in both ears.
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that gradually worsens over time is called “progressive”. If your hearing loss arises all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s called “congenital”.
  • 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 can have ramifications for treatment and adaptation.
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss due to external forces, such as damage, it’s known as “acquired”.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • 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.

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

Time to get a hearing exam

So how can you be sure which of these categories pertains to your hearing loss situation? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can accurately diagnose by yourself. It will be hard for you to determine, for instance, whether your cochlea is functioning properly.

But you can get a hearing exam to find out exactly what’s going on. Your loss of hearing is sort of like a “check engine” light. We can connect you to a wide variety of machines, and help determine what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with.

So the best way to determine 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.