Are There Different Kinds 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 discouraged to find that it didn’t fit at all? It’s sort of a bummer, isn’t it? The fact is that there’s virtually nothing in the world that is really a “one size fits all”. That’s true with t-shirts and it’s also relevant with medical conditions, like hearing loss. There can be a wide variety of reasons why it happens.

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

There are different forms of hearing loss

Because hearing is such an intricate mental and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be exactly the same. Perhaps when you’re in a crowded restaurant you can’t hear that well, but when you’re at work, you hear fine. Or, maybe specific frequencies of sound get lost. There are a wide variety of forms that your hearing loss can take.

How your hearing loss presents, in part, might be determined by what’s causing your symptoms to begin with. Because your ear is a very complex little organ, there are lots of things that can go wrong.

How does hearing work?

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

  • Outer ear: This is the portion of the ear that’s visible. It’s where you are first exposed to a “sound”. The shape of your ear helps direct those sounds into your middle ear (where they are further processed).
  • Middle ear: The eardrum and several tiny bones are what your middle ear is composed of (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
  • Inner ear: Your stereocilia are found hear. These tiny hairs detect vibrations and start converting those vibrations into electrical energy. Your cochlea helps here, too. These electrical signals are then transmitted to your brain.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve is inside of your ear, and it’s responsible for channeling and sending this electrical energy to your brain.
  • Auditory system: All of the components listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are components of your “auditory system”. It’s essential to understand that all of these components are constantly working together and in concert with each other. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any problem in one area will typically affect the performance of the entire system.

Types of hearing loss

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

The common types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This form of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often in the outer or middle ear. Usually, this blockage is caused by fluid or inflammation (this typically happens, for example, when you have an ear infection). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. Usually, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will go back to normal when the blockage is gone.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the tiny hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are normally destroyed. This type of hearing loss is typically chronic, progressive, and permanent. Typically, people are encouraged to wear ear protection to prevent this kind of hearing loss. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, it can be successfully managed with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to experience a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. Because the hearing loss is coming from numerous different places, this can sometimes be challenging to manage.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s fairly rare for somebody to develop ANSD. When sound is not effectively transmitted from your ear to your brain, this kind of hearing loss occurs. A device known as a cochlear implant is normally used to treat this type 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. Any of these common types of hearing loss can be further categorized (and more specifically). For instance, hearing loss can also be classified as:

  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You might have more difficulty hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be classified as one or the other.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to talk, it’s called pre-lingual. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to talk, it’s called post-lingual. This can have ramifications for treatment and adaptation.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either going through hearing loss in only one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually worsens over time. If your hearing loss arises all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: If your hearing loss is the same in both ears it’s symmetrical and if it’s not the same in both ears it’s asymmetrical.
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss tends to appear and disappear, it may be referred to as fluctuating. Stable hearing loss remains at around the same level.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s called “congenital”.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that happens as a result of outside forces (like damage).

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

Time to get a hearing test

So how can you be sure which of these classifications 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 instance, whether your cochlea is functioning properly.

But you can get a hearing exam to determine exactly what’s happening. Your loss of hearing is sort of like a “check engine” light. 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 determine what’s happening is to make an appointment with us today!


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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