Have you ever bought one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be disappointed (and surprised) when the shirt does not, in fact, fit as advertised? That’s truly frustrating. The fact is that there’s virtually nothing in the world that is really a “one size fits all”. That’s a fact with t-shirts and it’s also relevant with medical conditions, like hearing loss. There can be many reasons why it occurs.
So what are the most common types of hearing loss and what causes them? Well, that’s exactly what we intend to find out.
Hearing loss comes in different types
Everyone’s hearing loss scenario will be as individual as they are. Perhaps when you’re in a noisy restaurant you can’t hear that well, but when you’re at work, you hear fine. Or, maybe certain frequencies of sound get lost. There are a wide variety of forms that your hearing loss can take.
The underlying cause of your hearing loss will dictate how it manifests. Any number of things can go wrong with an organ as intricate as the ear.
How does hearing work?
It’s helpful to get an idea of how hearing is supposed to work before we can determine what level of hearing loss requires a hearing aid. Here’s how it breaks down:
- Outer ear: This is the part of the ear that you can see. It’s the initial sound receiver. Sounds are efficiently funneled into your middle ear for further processing by the shape of your outer ear.
- Middle ear: The middle ear is composed of your eardrum and several tiny ear bones (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
- Inner ear: Your stereocilia are found hear. Vibration is detected by these delicate hairs which are then transformed into electrical signals. Your cochlea helps here, too. These electrical signals are then carried to your brain.
- Auditory nerve: This nerve sends 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”. The total hearing process depends on all of these elements working in unison with each other. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any problem in one area will usually affect the performance of the whole system.
Hearing loss types
There are multiple types of hearing loss because there are numerous parts of the ear. The root cause of your hearing loss will determine which type of hearing loss you experience.
Here are some of the most prevalent causes:
- Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, usually the middle or outer ear, this form of hearing loss occurs. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the reason for this blockage (when you have an ear infection, for example, this usually occurs). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. When the obstruction is removed, hearing will usually return to normal.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: When the tiny hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are usually destroyed. This type of hearing loss is usually chronic, progressive, and permanent. Typically, individuals are encouraged to use ear protection to prevent this kind of hearing loss. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be managed by devices such as hearing aids.
- Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to experience a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. Because the hearing loss is coming from numerous different places, this can sometimes be challenging to treat.
- Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s fairly rare for someone to develop ANSD. When sound is not effectively transmitted from your ear to your brain, this type of hearing loss occurs. A device called a cochlear implant is normally used to manage this type of hearing loss.
Each form of hearing loss requires a different treatment approach, but the desired results are usually the same: to improve or preserve your ability to hear.
Hearing loss types have variations
And there’s more. We can break down and categorize these common forms of hearing loss even more specifically. For example, hearing loss can also be classified as:
- High frequency vs. low frequency: You might have more trouble hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be classified as one or the other.
- Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
- Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to come and go, it may be referred to as fluctuating. If your hearing loss stays at roughly the same levels, it’s known as stable.
- Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is called pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to talk. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to talk, it’s called post-lingual. This can have ramifications for treatment and adaptation.
- Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to experience hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
- Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops as a result of outside forces (like damage).
- Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This indicates whether your hearing loss is equal in both ears or unequal in both ears.
- Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually gets worse over time. If your hearing loss arises all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. But your hearing loss will be more successfully treated when we’re able to use these classifications.
Time to get a hearing exam
So how do you know what type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you have? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, regrettably, something that is at all accurate. It will be difficult for you to know, for example, whether your cochlea is functioning properly.
But that’s what hearing examinations are for! Your loss of hearing is kind of like a “check engine” light. We can hook you up to a wide variety of machines, and help identify what type of hearing loss you have.
So the best way to figure out what’s going on is to make an appointment with us as soon as you can!