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 try it on, you were disheartened to find that it didn’t fit at all? That’s really aggravating. There aren’t really very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. That’s true with t-shirts and it’s also relevant with medical conditions, such as hearing loss. There can be many reasons why it occurs.

So what are the most common kinds of hearing loss and what are their causes? Let’s find out!

Hearing loss comes in different types

Because hearing is such an intricate mental and physical process, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Perhaps when you’re in a noisy restaurant you can’t hear that well, but at work, you hear fine. Or maybe you only have difficulty with high or low-pitched sounds. Your hearing loss can take a wide variety of shapes.

How your hearing loss shows up, in part, could be dictated by what’s causing your symptoms to begin with. Lots of things can go wrong with an organ as complex as the ear.

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 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 portion of the ear that you can see. It’s where you’re first exposed to a “sound”. Sounds are efficiently guided into your middle ear for further processing by the shape of your outer ear.
  • Middle ear: The middle ear consists of your eardrum and a few 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 pick up on vibrations and begin converting those vibrations into electrical energy. Your cochlea helps here, also. These electrical signals are then carried to your brain.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve directs 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 one another. Typically, in other words, the entire system will be affected if any one part has issues.

Varieties of hearing loss

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

The common types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This form of hearing loss occurs because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, frequently in the middle or outer ear. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (when you have an ear infection, for example, this typically occurs). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. Once the obstruction is eliminated, hearing will normally go back to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the delicate hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are normally destroyed. This form of hearing loss is typically chronic, progressive, and irreversible. Typically, people are encouraged to use hearing protection to avoid this type of hearing loss. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, it can be effectively managed with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It occasionally happens that someone 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: It’s relatively rare for somebody to develop ANSD. It takes place when the cochlea does not effectively transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. A device known as a cochlear implant is normally used to manage this kind of hearing loss.

The desired results are the same even though the treatment solution will differ for each type of hearing loss: to improve or maintain your ability to hear.

Variations on hearing loss types

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

  • High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be categorized as one or the other depending on what frequency range is getting lost.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
  • 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.
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to appear and disappear, it might be referred to as fluctuating. If your hearing loss remains at about the same levels, it’s called stable.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to talk, it’s called pre-lingual. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to speak. This will affect the way hearing loss is addressed.
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually worsens over time. If your hearing loss arises all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss as a result of outside causes, like damage, it’s called “acquired”.

If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. The point is that each classification helps us more accurately and effectively address your symptoms.

A hearing test is in order

So how can you tell which type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you’re experiencing? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, regrettably, something that’s at all accurate. As an example, is your cochlea working correctly, how would you know?

But that’s what hearing tests are for! It’s like when you have a check engine light on in your car and you bring it to a skilled auto technician. We can connect you to a wide range of machines, and help identify what type of hearing loss you have.

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