How Many Different Types 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 disheartened to find that it didn’t fit at all? It’s sort of a bummer, isn’t it? The fact is that there’s virtually nothing in the world that is truly a “one size fits all”. That’s a fact with t-shirts and it’s also relevant with medical conditions, like hearing loss. There can be many reasons why it happens.

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

Hearing loss comes in different types

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

How your hearing loss shows up, in part, may be determined by what’s causing your symptoms to begin with. Any number of things can go wrong with an organ as intricate as the ear.

How does hearing work?

It’s useful to get an understanding of how hearing is supposed to work before we can understand what level of hearing loss requires a hearing aid. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Outer ear: This is the visible part of the ear. It’s where you’re initially exposed to a “sound”. The shape of your ear helps funnel those sounds into your middle ear (where they are processed further).
  • Middle ear: The eardrum and some tiny bones are what your middle ear is composed of (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
  • Inner ear: This is where your stereocilia are found. Vibration is picked up by these fragile hairs which are then converted into electrical signals. Your cochlea helps here, too. This electrical energy is then sent to your brain.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve sends 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 components working in unison with one another. Usually, in other words, the whole system will be affected if any one part has problems.

Hearing loss types

There are numerous forms of hearing loss because there are numerous parts of the ear. The underlying cause of your hearing loss will determine which type of hearing loss you experience.

The prevalent types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This kind of hearing loss occurs because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, frequently in the middle or outer ear. Usually, this blockage is caused by fluid or inflammation (this usually happens, for example, when you have an ear infection). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. Once the obstruction is removed, hearing will normally return to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the tiny hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are usually destroyed. Normally, this is a chronic, progressive and irreversible form of hearing loss. Usually, people are encouraged to use ear protection to prevent this type of hearing loss. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, it can be successfully treated with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to experience a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. This can sometimes be challenging to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s relatively rare for someone to develop ANSD. When sound is not effectively transmitted from your ear to your brain, this type of hearing loss happens. ANSD can usually be managed with a device known as a cochlear implant.

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

Variations on hearing loss kinds

And that’s not all! We can analyze and categorize these common types of hearing loss even more specifically. Here are a few examples:

  • Acquired hearing loss: If you develop hearing loss as a result of outside causes, like damage, it’s called “acquired”.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to experience hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is called pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to talk. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to talk. This will impact the way hearing loss is managed.
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to come and go, it may be referred to as fluctuating. If your hearing loss stays at around the same levels, it’s called stable.
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that gradually gets worse over time is called “progressive”. Hearing loss that erupts or shows up instantly is known as “sudden”.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You may experience more trouble hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be classified as one or the other.
  • 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.

That may seem like a lot, and it is. The point is that each classification helps us more precisely and effectively manage your symptoms.

Time to get a hearing exam

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

But you can get a hearing exam to find out exactly what’s happening. Your loss of hearing is sort of like a “check engine” light. We can connect you to a wide variety of machines, and help identify what type of hearing loss you have.

So call us today and make 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.