Not all hearing loss is created equally. Figuring out what kind of hearing loss you’re experiencing is the first step in treating it.
While some types of hearing loss are present at birth or have a genetic component, others are developed over time and don’t affect people until much later in life.
Depending on the type of hearing loss you have, it may affect the treatment options available for you to explore. It can also help you figure out if you can reverse some of the loss or not.
There are a few common types of hearing loss, and each one can be broken down further into different subtypes.
We’re going to go over the major categories of hearing loss, what causes them, and what you can expect in terms of treatment options.
This guide is meant to help you understand hearing loss better, but it’s always best to consult with your doctor, an audiologist, or an ENT if you have concerns about your hearing.
Here’s what you’ll learn:
- What Are the Main Types of Hearing Loss?
- Types of Sensorineural Hearing Loss
- Types of Conductive Hearing Loss
- Final Thoughts: The Different Types of Hearing Loss and What They Mean
There are three primary ways to classify hearing loss.
The first of the three main categories is sensorineural hearing loss, which is caused by damage either to the auditory nerve or your inner ear.
There’s also conductive hearing loss, which is caused when sound waves can’t pass through your outer ear canal or middle ear.
And finally there is mixed hearing loss, which has both sensorineural and conductive causes.
Hearing loss can be congenital or acquired, hereditary or non-hereditary, and you may experience gradual or sudden hearing loss.
In other words, hearing loss can take many forms, and it affects everyone differently.
90% of hearing loss is sensorineural, making it much more common than other types of hearing loss due to damage to the middle or outer ear. Two of the most common causes of sensorineural hearing loss are exposure to loud noises above 85 decibels (dB) and age-related hearing loss (presbycusis).
Age-related hearing loss is extremely common, with one in three adults between the age of 65 and 74 experiencing some loss in hearing.
Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss, and many of its causes are well known. They include noise-induced hearing loss, age, and high-frequency noise exposure, among others.
Sensorineural hearing loss can be broken down further depending on how it affects you.
- Bilateral hearing loss (symmetrical or asymmetrical)
- Unilateral hearing loss
Some people have bilateral hearing loss, where both ears are affected. It can be symmetrical, with the hearing loss roughly the same on each side. Or it can be asymmetrical, with one ear experiencing more severe hearing loss than the other.
If your hearing loss is bilateral, it could be caused by aging, genetics, noise exposure, or even certain medications.
Asymmetrical hearing loss usually means you have hearing loss in both ears, but with a difference of 15 dB between the left and right ears. If you experience asymmetrical hearing loss, you may also have labyrinthitis, vertigo, or tinnitus, which were all commonly found during one study.
Asymmetrical hearing loss is usually caused by the same conditions as symmetrical hearing loss, but occasionally it can be due to a tumor or other underlying condition.
It’s also possible to experience hearing loss only on one side, which is called unilateral hearing loss. That means one of your ears has normal hearing, and one has at least some hearing loss.
While this type is often inherited and present at birth, it can also happen later in life.
The other major category of hearing loss is conductive. This type of hearing loss has physical causes that prevent noises from traveling through your ear.
Some of these causes, like fluid buildup, are usually temporary, and the hearing loss can be reversed. Others may be more permanent. Treatment for conductive hearing loss is different from sensorineural hearing loss.
Causes of conductive hearing loss can include:
- Fluid buildup
- Ear infection
- Blockage or foreign object in the ear
- Ear wax buildup
- Deformation of ear
- Hole in eardrum
The causes of conductive hearing loss can be due to a virus or even allergies. Or, they can be the result of being born with a physical deformation of the ear. The first step for treating any of these conditions is to consult with your audiologist or ENT.
Whether you suspect your type of hearing loss is sensorineural or conductive, symmetrical or asymmetrical, the first step in getting treatment is to talk with your doctor.
If your hearing loss is conductive, it’s possible you’ll be able to reverse some or all of the loss through treatment. Some conductive hearing loss issues will clear up on their own, but others may require surgery or medication.
Many types of sensorineural hearing loss aren’t reversible — but they can be treated, and it’s possible to prevent further damage too.