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 purchased one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be dismayed (and surprised) when the shirt does not, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s sort 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 true with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions such as hearing loss. This can be true for many reasons.

So what causes hearing loss? And what’s the most common kind of hearing loss? Let’s find out!

Hearing loss comes in different forms

Because hearing is such an intricate mental and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Perhaps you hear just fine at the office, but not in a noisy restaurant. Or, maybe specific frequencies of sound get lost. Your loss of hearing can take a wide range of forms.

The underlying cause of your hearing loss will determine how it manifests. Because your ear is a rather complex little organ, there are lots of things that can go wrong.

How does hearing work?

Before you can thoroughly understand how hearing loss works, or what degree 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 visible portion of the ear. It’s the initial sound receiver. Sounds are efficiently funneled 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. Vibration is detected by these delicate hairs which are then transformed into electrical energy. Your cochlea plays a part in this too. These electrical signals are then sent to your brain.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve sends 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 important to understand that all of these components are constantly working together and in unison with each other. Typically, in other words, the whole system will be impacted if any one part has issues.

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 experience.

The common types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, usually the middle or outer ear, this form of hearing loss happens. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (when you have an ear infection, for example, this usually occurs). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. Once the obstruction is removed, hearing will normally go back to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud sound, the fragile hair cells which detect sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. Usually, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent type of hearing loss. Usually, individuals are encouraged to use hearing protection to prevent this type of hearing loss. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, it can be successfully managed with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to have a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. Because the hearing loss is coming from several different places, this can sometimes be difficult to manage.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s fairly rare for someone to develop ANSD. It occurs when the cochlea doesn’t properly transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. 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 isn’t all! Any of these common types of hearing loss can be further categorized (and with more specificity). For example, hearing loss can also be classified as:

  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that slowly worsens over time is called “progressive”. If your hearing loss arises all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either going through hearing loss in just one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss because of outside forces, like damage, it’s known as “acquired”.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You might experience more difficulty hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be classified as one or the other.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is known as pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to talk. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to speak, it’s called post-lingual. This will affect the way hearing loss is addressed.
  • 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 relatively the same level.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: If your hearing loss is the same in both ears it’s symmetrical and if it’s not 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 address your symptoms.

A hearing exam is in order

So how can you tell what type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you’re experiencing? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, unfortunately, something that’s at all accurate. It will be difficult for you to know, for example, whether your cochlea is functioning properly.

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 qualified auto technician. We can help you identify what type of hearing loss you have by hooking you up to a wide variety of modern technology.

So the best way to understand what’s going on 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.