Are There Different Types of Hearing Loss?


Shot of a senior man drinking coffee and looking thoughtfully out of a window wondering about hearing loss.

Have you ever bought one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be disappointed (and shocked) when the shirt doesn’t, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s kind of a bummer, isn’t it? There aren’t really very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. That’s a fact with t-shirts and it’s also relevant with medical conditions, such as hearing loss. There can be a wide variety of reasons why it occurs.

So what causes hearing loss? And what is the most prevalent type of hearing loss? Well, that’s precisely what we intend to find out.

Hearing loss comes in different types

Because hearing is such a complex 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 variety of shapes.

The underlying cause of your hearing loss will dictate how it manifests. Lots 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 degree of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Outer ear: This is the part of the ear that’s visible. It’s the initial sound receiver. The shape of your ear helps funnel those sounds into your middle ear (where they are further processed).
  • Middle ear: The middle ear comprises your eardrum and a few tiny ear bones (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
  • Inner ear: This is where your stereocilia are found. These tiny hairs pick up on vibrations and start translating those vibrations into electrical energy. Your cochlea helps here, 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. The total hearing process depends on all of these parts working in concert with each other. Typically, in other words, the entire system will be affected if any one part has issues.

Types of hearing loss

There are multiple types of hearing loss because there are multiple parts of the ear. 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 occurs. Normally, this blockage is a consequence of fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for example, this typically occurs). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. When the obstruction is removed, hearing will normally return to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the delicate hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are normally destroyed. This type of hearing loss is generally chronic, progressive, and irreversible. Typically, individuals are encouraged to use hearing protection to prevent 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 occasionally happens that somebody will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss simultaneously. This can often be challenging to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s relatively rare for somebody to develop ANSD. When sound is not properly transmitted from your ear to your brain, this kind of hearing loss happens. ANSD can normally 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 form of hearing loss: to improve or preserve your ability to hear.

Variations on hearing loss kinds

And there’s more. We can analyze and categorize these common types of hearing loss even more specifically. Here are a few examples:

  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it slowly gets worse over time. Hearing loss that erupts or presents instantly is known as “sudden”.
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss describes hearing loss that comes and goes. Stable hearing loss stays at relatively the same level.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You might experience more trouble 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 called pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to speak. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to speak, it’s known as post-lingual. This can have ramifications for treatment and adaptation.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This indicates whether your hearing loss is equal in both ears or unequal in both ears.
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you develop hearing loss as a result of external forces, like damage, it’s called “acquired”.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s called “congenital”.

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

A hearing test is in order

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

But you can get a hearing exam to determine precisely what’s happening. 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 determine what type of hearing loss you have by hooking you up to a wide range of modern technology.

So give us a call today and schedule an appointment to figure out what’s happening.

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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.

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