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 purchased one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be disappointed (and shocked) when the shirt does not, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s kind of a bummer, isn’t it? The truth is that there’s almost nothing in the world that is really 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 many reasons.

So what’s the cause of hearing loss? And what is the most common kind of hearing loss? Well, that’s precisely what we intend to explore.

Hearing loss comes in different kinds

Because hearing is such a complex mental and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be exactly the same. Maybe you hear perfectly well at the office, but not in a noisy restaurant. Or, perhaps specific frequencies of sound get lost. There are numerous forms that your hearing loss can take.

How your hearing loss presents, in part, might be dictated by what causes your symptoms in the first place. Because your ear is a very complex little organ, there are lots of things that can go wrong.

How does hearing work?

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

  • Outer ear: This is the visible part of the ear. 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 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: This is where your stereocilia are found. These delicate hairs detect vibrations and start translating those vibrations into electrical signals. Your cochlea plays a part in this also. These electrical signals are then transmitted to your brain.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve sends these electrical signals to the brain.
  • Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” includes all of the elements discussed above. It’s essential to recognize that all of these parts are continually working together and in unison with each other. In other words, the system is interconnected, so any issue in one area will typically impact the performance of the whole system.

Types of hearing loss

There are multiple forms of hearing loss because there are multiple parts of the ear. The underlying cause of your hearing loss will determine which kind of hearing loss you develop.

The common types of hearing loss include:

  • 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. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (this usually happens, for example, when you have an ear infection). Sometimes, conductive hearing loss can be caused by a growth in the ear canal. Once the blockage is eliminated, hearing will normally go back to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the delicate hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are normally destroyed. Usually, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent type of hearing loss. As a result, people are normally encouraged to prevent this kind of hearing loss by using ear protection. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated by devices such as 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: ANSD is a rather rare condition. When sound is not properly transmitted from your ear to your brain, this type of hearing loss happens. ANSD can usually be managed with a device called a cochlear implant.

Each type of hearing loss requires a different treatment strategy, but the desired results are usually the same: to improve or maintain your ability to hear.

Variations on hearing loss types

And that’s not all! We can analyze and categorize these common types of hearing loss even more specifically. For instance, hearing loss can also be classified as:

  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is known as pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to speak. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to speak. This can have ramifications for treatment and adaptation.
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss tends to come and go, it may be referred to as fluctuating. Stable hearing loss remains at relatively the same level.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This indicates whether your hearing loss is the same in both ears or unequal in both ears.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be classified as one or the other depending on which frequency range is getting lost.
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it slowly gets worse over time. If your hearing loss occurs all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops due to outside forces (such as damage).
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either experiencing hearing loss in just one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).

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

Time to have a hearing exam

So how can you tell 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 example, whether your cochlea is functioning correctly.

But that’s what hearing exams are for! It’s like when you have a check engine light on in your car and you take it to a skilled auto technician. We can help you identify what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with by hooking you up to a wide variety of modern technology.

So the best way to figure out what’s happening is to make an appointment with us as soon as you can!


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.