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 seen a t-shirt advertised as “one size fits all” but when you went to try it on, you were discouraged to find that it didn’t fit at all? That’s really annoying. There aren’t actually 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, like hearing loss. There can be numerous reasons why it happens.

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

Hearing loss comes in different forms

Because hearing is such an intricate cognitive and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Maybe you hear just fine at the office, but not in a noisy restaurant. Or, perhaps specific frequencies of sound get lost. There are a wide variety of forms that your hearing loss can take.

How your hearing loss shows up, in part, could 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 figure out what level of hearing loss requires a hearing aid. Check out this breakdown:

  • Outer ear: This is the visible part of the ear. It’s the initial sound receiver. Sounds are effectively funneled into your middle ear for further processing by the shape of your outer ear.
  • Middle ear: The eardrum and a few 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. These delicate hairs pick up on vibrations and begin translating 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: All of the elements listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are components of your “auditory system”. It’s important to recognize that all of these components are constantly working together and in concert with each other. Usually, in other words, the whole system will be impacted if any one part has problems.

Types of hearing loss

Because there are multiple parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) numerous forms of hearing loss. The underlying cause of your hearing loss will determine which kind of hearing loss you develop.

Here are some of the most prevalent causes:

  • 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 instance, when you have an ear infection). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. Usually, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will return to normal once the blockage is gone.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the fragile hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are usually destroyed. This form of hearing loss is usually chronic, progressive, and permanent. Usually, individuals are encouraged to wear hearing protection to avoid this kind of hearing loss. If you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated by devices such as hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It sometimes happens that a person will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss at the same time. 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 type of hearing loss occurs. ANSD can normally be managed with a device called a cochlear implant.

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

Variations on hearing loss kinds

And there’s more. We can break down and categorize these common forms of hearing loss even more specifically. For example, hearing loss can also be classified as:

  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you develop hearing loss because of outside causes, like damage, it’s called “acquired”.
  • 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: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that slowly gets worse over time is called “progressive”. Hearing loss that appears or shows up instantly is known as “sudden”.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is called pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to talk. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to talk, it’s known as post-lingual. This can have implications for treatment and adaptation.
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss refers to hearing loss that comes and goes. Stable hearing loss stays at around the same level.
  • 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.

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

Time to have a hearing test

So how can you tell which of these classifications pertains 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 working properly.

But that’s what hearing tests are for! It’s like when you have a check engine light on in your car and you take it to a qualified auto technician. We can hook you up to a wide variety of machines, and help identify 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 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.