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 purchased one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be dismayed (and surprised) when the shirt doesn’t, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s kind of a bummer, right? The reality is that there’s virtually nothing in the world that is truly a “one size fits all”. That’s true with t-shirts and it’s also true with medical conditions, such as hearing loss. This can be accurate for many reasons.

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

There are different kinds of hearing loss

Everyone’s hearing loss situation will be as unique as they are. Perhaps when you’re in a noisy restaurant you can’t hear very well, but when you’re at work, you hear fine. Or, maybe specific frequencies of sound get lost. There are numerous forms that your hearing loss can take.

The underlying cause of your hearing loss will determine how it manifests. Because your ear is a rather complex little organ, there are any number 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 requires a hearing aid, it’s practical to think a bit about how things are supposed to function, how your ear is usually supposed to work. Check out this breakdown:

  • Outer ear: This is the part of the ear that you can see. It’s the initial sound receiver. The shape of your ear helps direct those sounds into your middle ear (where they are processed further).
  • Middle ear: The middle ear is composed of your eardrum and several 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 picked up by these delicate hairs which are then converted into electrical energy. Your cochlea plays a role in this too. Our brain then receives this electrical energy.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve is inside of your ear, and it’s responsible for transmitting and sending this electrical energy towards your brain.
  • Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” encompasses all of the elements discussed above. It’s essential to understand that all of these components are constantly working together and in unison with one another. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any problem in one area will typically affect the performance of the whole system.

Types of hearing loss

Because there are numerous parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) numerous forms of hearing loss. Which form you experience will depend on the underlying cause.

The prevalent types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This form of hearing loss occurs because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, frequently in the middle or outer ear. Typically, this blockage is due to fluid or inflammation (this usually happens, for example, when you have an ear infection). Sometimes, conductive hearing loss can be the result of a growth in the ear canal. Typically, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will return to normal when the blockage is gone.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the delicate 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. Typically, individuals are encouraged to use hearing protection to avoid this kind of hearing loss. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated by devices like hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to have 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: ANSD is a relatively rare condition. It occurs when the cochlea does not properly transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. A device known as a cochlear implant is normally used to treat this kind of hearing loss.

Each form of hearing loss calls for a different treatment method, but the desired results are often the same: improving your hearing ability.

Variations on hearing loss kinds

And that isn’t all! Any of these normal kinds of hearing loss can be further categorized (and more specifically). Here are some examples:

  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss tends to appear and disappear, it might be referred to as fluctuating. If your hearing loss stays at around the same levels, it’s called stable.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be categorized as one or the other depending on what frequency range is getting lost.
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you develop hearing loss because of external forces, such as damage, it’s known as “acquired”.
  • 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.
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that slowly worsens over time is called “progressive”. If your hearing loss occurs all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either going through hearing loss in only one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s called pre-lingual. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to talk, it’s called post-lingual. This will impact the way hearing loss is addressed.

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 get a hearing test

So how can you tell which type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you’re experiencing? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, regrettably, something that is at all accurate. It will be hard for you to know, for example, whether your cochlea is working 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 bring it to a skilled auto technician. We can hook you up to a wide range of machines, and help establish what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with.

So give us a call as soon as you can 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.


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