Have you ever seen a t-shirt promoted as “one size fits all” but when you went to put it on, you were discouraged to find that it didn’t fit at all? That’s really aggravating. There aren’t really 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 such as hearing loss. There can be a wide variety of reasons why it occurs.
So what causes hearing loss? And what’s the most common type of hearing loss? Well, that’s exactly what we intend to explore.
There are different types of hearing loss
Everyone’s hearing loss situation will be as individual as they are. Perhaps you hear just fine at the office, but not in a crowded restaurant. Or perhaps you only have trouble with high or low-pitched sounds. Your hearing loss can take a wide range of forms.
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 very 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 calls for a hearing aid, it’s practical to consider how things are supposed to work, how your ear is usually 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”. Sounds are efficiently guided into your middle ear for further processing due to the shape of your outer ear.
- Middle ear: The middle ear is composed of your eardrum and a few 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. These tiny hairs detect vibrations and start translating those vibrations into electrical energy. Your cochlea plays a role in this too. These electrical signals are then transmitted to your brain.
- Auditory nerve: This nerve directs 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 elements working in concert with each other. In other words, the system is interconnected, so any problem in one area will usually impact the performance of the entire system.
Hearing loss types
Because there are multiple parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) multiple forms of hearing loss. The underlying cause of your hearing loss will determine which type of hearing loss you develop.
Here are some of the most common 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 happens. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (when you have an ear infection, for example, this usually occurs). 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 as soon as the blockage is gone.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: When the fragile hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are usually destroyed. This type of hearing loss is generally chronic, progressive, and irreversible. As a result, individuals are usually encouraged to avoid this kind of hearing loss by wearing ear protection. 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 difficult 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 occurs. A device known as a cochlear implant is usually used to manage this type of hearing loss.
The desired results are the same even though the treatment solution will differ for each form of hearing loss: improving your hearing ability.
Hearing loss types have variations
And there’s more. Any of these common types of hearing loss can be categorized further (and more specifically). Here are some examples:
- Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that gradually worsens over time is called “progressive”. If your hearing loss occurs all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
- Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to come and go, it may be referred to as fluctuating. Stable hearing loss stays at around the same level.
- High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be classified as one or the other depending on which frequency range is getting lost.
- Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to talk, it’s known as pre-lingual. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to speak, it’s known as post-lingual. This will impact the way hearing loss is managed.
- Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
- 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.
- Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss as a result of external causes, such as damage, it’s called “acquired”.
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 can you tell which of these classifications pertains to your hearing loss situation? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, regrettably, something that is at all accurate. It will be difficult for you to determine, for example, whether your cochlea is working properly.
But that’s what hearing examinations 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 connect you to a wide range of machines, and help identify what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with.
So contact us today and schedule an appointment to find out what’s happening.