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 dismayed (and shocked) when the shirt does not, in fact, fit as advertised? That’s really annoying. There aren’t actually very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. That’s not only true with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions like hearing loss. This can be accurate for many reasons.

So what are the most common types of hearing loss and what are their causes? Let’s see what we can 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. Maybe you hear just fine at the office, but not in a crowded restaurant. Or, perhaps specific frequencies of sound get lost. There are numerous forms that your hearing loss can take.

How your hearing loss shows up, in part, may be dictated by what’s causing your symptoms in the first place. Because your ear is a fairly complex little organ, there are lots of things that can go wrong.

How your hearing works

It’s helpful to get an understanding of how hearing is supposed to work before we can determine what level of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Outer ear: This is the visible part of the ear. It’s the initial sound receiver. 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: Your stereocilia are found hear. Vibration is picked up by these little hairs which are then transformed into electrical signals. Your cochlea plays a role in this too. Our brain then receives these electrical signals.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve is inside of your ear, and it’s responsible for channeling and directing this electrical energy to your brain.
  • Auditory system: All of the elements listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are elements of your “auditory system”. The overall hearing process depends on all of these parts working in concert with each other. Usually, in other words, the entire system will be affected if any one part has problems.

Varieties of hearing loss

Because there are numerous parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) numerous types of hearing loss. 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, usually the middle or outer ear, this type of hearing loss happens. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this usually happens). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. When the obstruction is removed, hearing will usually go back to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the delicate hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are normally destroyed. This form of hearing loss is usually chronic, progressive, and irreversible. As a result, individuals are usually encouraged to avoid this kind of hearing loss by using hearing protection. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, it can be successfully managed with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It sometimes happens that someone will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss at the same time. Because the hearing loss is coming from numerous different places, this can sometimes be difficult to treat.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a relatively rare condition. When sound isn’t effectively transmitted from your ear to your brain, this type of hearing loss happens. ANSD can usually be treated with a device called a cochlear implant.

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

Variations on hearing loss kinds

And there’s more. Any of these common kinds of hearing loss can be further categorized (and with more specificity). Here are a few examples:

  • 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.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You might experience more trouble hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be categorized as one or the other.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to talk, it’s called pre-lingual. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to speak, it’s called post-lingual. This can have ramifications for treatment and adaptation.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s called “congenital”.
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it slowly gets worse over time. Hearing loss that appears or presents instantly is called “sudden”.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either experiencing hearing loss in just one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss tends to come and go, it may be referred to as fluctuating. Stable hearing loss remains at about the same level.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops due to outside forces (like damage).

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

Time to get a hearing test

So how do you know which type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you’re experiencing? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, unfortunately, something that is at all accurate. It will be hard for you to determine, for instance, 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 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 contact 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.

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    Dr. Laura Padham, Audiologist

    Ocean Gate, NJ

    143 W Barnegat Avenue
    Ocean Gate, NJ 08740

    Mobile Services in:Ocean, Monmouth, Middlesex, Somerset, Union, Essex, Hudson, Bergen, Passaic, Atlantic, Mercer, and Burlington Counties.

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