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 seen a t-shirt advertised as “one size fits all” but when you went to put it on, you were disheartened to find that it didn’t fit at all? It’s sort of a bummer, isn’t it? The truth is that there’s virtually nothing in the world that is really a “one size fits all”. That’s not only relevant with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions such as hearing loss. There can be a wide variety of reasons why it happens.

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

Hearing loss comes in different kinds

Everyone’s hearing loss scenario will be as unique as they are. Perhaps when you’re in a noisy restaurant you can’t hear very well, but at work, you hear just fine. Or perhaps you only have trouble with high-pitched voices or low-pitched sounds. There are numerous forms that your hearing loss can take.

How your hearing loss shows up, in part, could be determined by what’s causing your symptoms in the first place. Lots of things can go wrong with an organ as intricate as the ear.

How your hearing works

Before you can completely understand how hearing loss works, or what level of hearing loss requires a hearing aid, it’s practical to think a bit about 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 portion of the ear that’s visible. It’s where you are first exposed to a “sound”. 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 several tiny ear bones (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
  • Inner ear: Your stereocilia are found hear. These fragile hairs pick up on vibrations and start translating those vibrations into electrical energy. Your cochlea helps here, too. These electrical signals are then transmitted to your brain.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve directs these electrical signals to the brain.
  • Auditory system: All of the elements listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are components of your “auditory system”. It’s essential to understand that all of these elements are continually working together and in unison with one another. In other words, the system is interconnected, so any issue in one area will usually impact the performance of the whole system.

Types of hearing loss

There are multiple types of hearing loss because there are multiple parts of the ear. The root cause of your hearing loss will determine which type of hearing loss you develop.

The common types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This type of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often in the outer or middle ear. Usually, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (this typically happens, for instance, when you have an ear infection). In some cases, conductive hearing loss can be caused by a growth in the ear canal. Normally, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will return to normal when the obstruction has been removed.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud noise, the tiny hair cells which pick up sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. Normally, this is a chronic, progressive and irreversible type of hearing loss. As a result, people are usually encouraged to avoid this kind of hearing loss by wearing hearing protection. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, it can be successfully managed with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to experience a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. 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. It occurs when the cochlea does not properly transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. ANSD can usually be managed with a device known as a cochlear implant.

Each type of hearing loss requires a different treatment approach, but the desired results are usually the same: improving your hearing ability.

Hearing loss types have variations

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

  • Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss as a result of outside causes, like damage, it’s known as “acquired”.
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually gets worse over time. Hearing loss that erupts or presents instantly is known as “sudden”.
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss tends to come and go, it might be referred to as fluctuating. Stable hearing loss stays at relatively the same level.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop 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 can have ramifications for treatment and adaptation.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You might have more difficulty hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be categorized as one or the other.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This indicates whether your hearing loss is equal in both ears or unequal in both ears.

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

Time to have a hearing exam

So how do you know which type, and what sub-type, of hearing loss you’re experiencing? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, unfortunately, something that is at all accurate. As an example, is your cochlea working properly, how would you know?

But that’s what hearing exams are for! Your loss of hearing is sort of like a “check engine” light. We can connect you to a wide variety of machines, and help establish what type of hearing loss you have.

So contact us today and schedule 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.

Questions? Talk To Us.

    Delaney Hearing Center

    Charlottesville, VA

    671 Berkmar Court,Charlottesville, VA 22901

    Call or Text: 434-205-6800

    Fax: 434-321-1628

    Monday through Friday, 9am – 5pm

    facebook   Charlottesville, VA Google Business Profile

    Fredericksburg, VA

    109 Olde Greenwich Drive, #102 Fredericksburg, VA 22408

    Call or Text: 434-326-5108

    Fax: 434-321-1628

    Monday through Friday, 9am - 5pm

    facebook   Fredericksburg, VA Google Business Profile

    Find out how we can help!

    Call or Text Us