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? That’s really frustrating. The fact 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 like hearing loss. This can be accurate for numerous reasons.

So what’s the cause of hearing loss? And what is the most prevalent kind of hearing loss? Let’s see what we can find out!

Hearing loss comes in different forms

Everyone’s hearing loss situation will be as individual as they are. Maybe when you’re in a crowded restaurant you can’t hear very well, but when you’re at work, you hear just fine. Or maybe you only have problems with high or low-pitched sounds. Your loss of hearing can take a wide variety of forms.

How your hearing loss presents, in part, could be dictated by what’s causing your symptoms in the first place. Any number of things can go wrong with an organ as intricate as the ear.

How does hearing work?

It’s helpful to get an understanding of how hearing is supposed to work before we can determine what degree of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Outer ear: This is the portion of the ear that you can see. 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 several tiny bones are what your middle ear is composed of (yes, you have bones in your ear, but they are admittedly very, very tiny).
  • Inner ear: Your stereocilia are found hear. Vibration is detected by these delicate hairs which are then transformed into electrical signals. Your cochlea helps here, also. Our brain then receives these electrical signals.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve directs these electrical signals to the brain.
  • Auditory system: All of the parts listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are elements of your “auditory system”. It’s essential to understand that all of these elements are constantly working together and in unison with one another. In other words, the system is interconnected, so any issue in one area will usually impact the performance of the entire system.

Varieties of hearing loss

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

Here are some of the most prevalent causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often the middle or outer ear, this type of hearing loss happens. Usually, fluid or inflammation is the reason for this blockage (when you have an ear infection, for example, this typically happens). 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 has been removed.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the tiny hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are normally destroyed. Normally, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent type of hearing loss. As a result, people are normally encouraged to prevent this type of hearing loss by using hearing protection. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, it can be effectively managed with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It sometimes happens that someone will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss simultaneously. Because the hearing loss is coming from several different places, this can sometimes be difficult to treat.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s fairly rare for someone 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 usually used to treat this kind of hearing loss.

Each form of hearing loss requires a different treatment approach, but the desired results are often the same: to improve or preserve your ability to hear.

Hearing loss types have variations

And there’s more. Any of these normal kinds of hearing loss can be further categorized (and with more specificity). Here are a few examples:

  • 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.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is called pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to speak. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to talk. This will impact the way hearing loss is addressed.
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that gradually gets worse over time is called “progressive”. Hearing loss that erupts or shows up instantly is called “sudden”.
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to appear and disappear, it may be referred to as fluctuating. Stable hearing loss stays at about the same level.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This indicates whether your hearing loss is the same in both ears or unequal in both ears.
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss because of external causes, such as damage, it’s known as “acquired”.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either experiencing hearing loss in just one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.

That might seem like a lot, and it is. But your hearing loss will be more successfully treated when we’re able to use these categories.

A hearing exam is in order

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 accurately diagnose by yourself. It will be hard for you to know, for example, whether your cochlea is functioning properly.

But that’s what hearing exams are for! 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 identify what type of hearing loss you have.

So give us a call as soon as you can and schedule an appointment to find out what’s happening.


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.