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 bought one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be disappointed (and surprised) when the shirt does not, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s sort of a bummer, isn’t it? There aren’t actually 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 such as hearing loss. There can be numerous reasons why it occurs.

So what are the most prevalent types of hearing loss and what causes them? Let’s find out!

Hearing loss comes in different kinds

Everyone’s hearing loss situation will be as unique as they are. Maybe you hear perfectly well at the office, but not in a crowded restaurant. Or, maybe certain frequencies of sound get lost. There are numerous forms that your hearing loss can take.

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

How your hearing works

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

  • 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 processed further).
  • Middle ear: The middle ear is composed of your eardrum and several tiny ear bones (yes, you have bones in your ear, but they are admittedly very, very tiny).
  • Inner ear: This is where your stereocilia are found. These delicate hairs detect vibrations and start converting those vibrations into electrical energy. Your cochlea helps here, also. These electrical signals are then sent to your brain.
  • 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 parts discussed above. It’s essential to recognize that all of these parts are continually working together and in unison with each other. Usually, in other words, the whole system will be impacted if any one part has problems.

Hearing loss varieties

There are numerous types of hearing loss because there are multiple parts of the ear. The root cause of your hearing loss will determine which kind of hearing loss you develop.

The prevalent types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often the middle or outer ear, this type of hearing loss occurs. Usually, this blockage is due to fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this usually occurs). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. When the blockage is removed, hearing will normally go back to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the tiny hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are usually destroyed. Normally, this is a chronic, progressive and irreversible form of hearing loss. Typically, people are encouraged to wear ear protection to prevent this type of hearing loss. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be managed by devices such as hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It occasionally happens that a person will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss at the same time. This can sometimes be difficult to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s relatively rare for somebody to develop ANSD. It happens when the cochlea does not properly transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. ANSD can usually be managed with a device known as a cochlear implant.

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

Hearing loss kinds have variations

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

  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss refers to hearing loss that comes and goes. If your hearing loss remains at about the same levels, it’s called stable.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This tells you whether your hearing loss is the same in both ears or unequal in both ears.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You may experience more difficulty hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be categorized as one or the other.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops due to outside causes (such as damage).
  • 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 impact the way hearing loss is managed.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either going through hearing loss in just one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it slowly worsens over time. Hearing loss that appears or presents instantly is called “sudden”.
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.

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 get a hearing exam

So how can you tell what type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you have? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can self-diagnose with much accuracy. It will be hard for you to determine, for example, whether your cochlea is functioning properly.

But you can get a hearing exam to find out exactly what’s happening. 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 help you identify what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with by hooking you up to a wide variety of modern technology.

So call us as soon as you can 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.