Are There Different Types of Hearing Loss?

Shot of a senior man drinking coffee and looking thoughtfully out of a window wondering about hearing loss.

Have you ever purchased one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be dismayed (and surprised) when the shirt doesn’t, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s kind of a bummer, right? The truth is that there’s almost nothing in the world that is truly a “one size fits all”. That’s not only relevant with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions such as hearing loss. This can be accurate for numerous reasons.

So what are the most common kinds of hearing loss and what causes them? Well, that’s exactly what we intend to find out.

Hearing loss comes in different types

Everyone’s hearing loss scenario will be as individual as they are. Maybe you hear perfectly well at the office, but not in a noisy restaurant. Or, maybe specific frequencies of sound get lost. Your loss of hearing can take a variety of shapes.

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

How does hearing work?

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

  • Outer ear: This is the visible part of the ear. It’s where you are initially exposed to a “sound”. The shape of your ear helps direct those sounds into your middle ear (where they are processed further).
  • Middle ear: The middle ear consists 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. These tiny hairs detect vibrations and start translating those vibrations into electrical energy. Your cochlea plays a role in this also. These electrical signals are then carried to your brain.
  • 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”. It’s essential to recognize that all of these elements are constantly working together and in unison with one another. Typically, in other words, the entire system will be impacted if any one part has issues.

Varieties of hearing loss

There are multiple forms of hearing loss because there are numerous parts of the ear. Which type you experience will depend on the underlying cause.

Here are some of the most common causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This type of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often in the outer or middle ear. Normally, this blockage is due to fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this typically happens). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. When the blockage is removed, hearing will usually go back to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud noise, the tiny hair cells which pick up sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. Usually, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent type of hearing loss. Usually, individuals are encouraged to use hearing protection to prevent this type 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 experience a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. This can often be hard 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 isn’t effectively transmitted from your ear to your brain, this kind of hearing loss happens. ANSD can normally be treated with a device called a cochlear implant.

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

Hearing loss kinds have variations

And that’s not all! Any of these common kinds of hearing loss can be categorized further (and more specifically). Here are some examples:

  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss describes hearing loss that appears and disappears. If your hearing loss remains at roughly the same levels, it’s called stable.
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually worsens over time. Hearing loss that appears or shows up instantly is known as “sudden”.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s known as pre-lingual. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to speak, it’s known as post-lingual. This will affect the way hearing loss is addressed.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: If your hearing loss is the same in both ears it’s symmetrical and if it isn’t the same in both ears it’s asymmetrical.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either experiencing hearing loss in only one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You may experience more trouble 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 as a consequence of outside causes (like damage).
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.

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 classifications.

Time to have a hearing test

So how can you tell which of these categories applies to your hearing loss situation? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, unfortunately, something that’s at all accurate. For instance, is your cochlea functioning properly, how would you know?

But you can get a hearing exam to determine precisely what’s going on. Your loss of hearing is sort of like a “check engine” light. We can hook you up to a wide range 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 make an appointment with us as soon as you can!

Call Today to Set Up an Appointment


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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