Have you ever seen a t-shirt advertised as “one size fits all” but when you went to try it on, you were disheartened to find that it didn’t fit at all? It’s sort of a bummer, isn’t it? There aren’t really very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. That’s not only relevant with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions like hearing loss. There can be a wide variety of reasons why it occurs.
So what causes hearing loss? And what is the most common kind of hearing loss? Let’s see what we can find out!
There are different types of hearing loss
Because hearing is such a complex mental and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Perhaps you hear perfectly well at the office, but not in a crowded restaurant. Or maybe you only have difficulty with high or low-pitched sounds. Your hearing loss can take a wide range of forms.
The root cause of your hearing loss will dictate how it manifests. Because your ear is a fairly complex little organ, there are any number of things that can go wrong.
How does hearing work?
Before you can completely understand how hearing loss works, or what degree of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid, it’s helpful to think a bit about how things are supposed to work, how your ear is generally supposed to work. Check out this breakdown:
- Outer ear: This is the visible part of the ear. It’s the initial sound receiver. The shape of your ear helps direct those sounds into your middle ear (where they are processed further).
- Middle ear: The middle ear comprises 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 fragile hairs detect vibrations and begin converting those vibrations into electrical signals. Your cochlea plays a part in this too. Our brain then receives this electrical energy.
- Auditory nerve: This nerve is located in your ear, and it’s responsible for channeling and sending this electrical energy to your brain.
- Auditory system: All of the elements listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are components of your “auditory system”. It’s important to recognize that all of these components are continually working together and in unison with one another. Typically, in other words, the whole system will be impacted if any one part has problems.
Hearing loss types
Because there are numerous parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) multiple forms of hearing loss. The root cause of your hearing loss will determine which type of hearing loss you develop.
The prevalent types of hearing loss include:
- Conductive hearing loss: This kind of hearing loss occurs 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 (when you have an ear infection, for example, this typically occurs). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. Once the blockage is eliminated, hearing will usually go back to normal.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: When the fragile hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are usually destroyed. Normally, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent form of hearing loss. Typically, people are encouraged to wear ear protection to prevent this type of hearing loss. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be managed by devices such as hearing aids.
- Mixed hearing loss: It occasionally happens that somebody will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss at the same time. Because the hearing loss is coming from several different places, this can sometimes be difficult to treat.
- Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a relatively rare condition. When sound isn’t properly transmitted from your ear to your brain, this kind of hearing loss occurs. A device called a cochlear implant is normally used to treat this type of hearing loss.
The desired results are the same even though the treatment solution will differ for each form of hearing loss: to improve or preserve your ability to hear.
Hearing loss types have variations
And that isn’t all! Any of these common types of hearing loss can be further categorized (and more specifically). Here are a few examples:
- Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss tends to appear and disappear, it might be referred to as fluctuating. If your hearing loss stays at approximately the same levels, it’s called stable.
- Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops due to outside causes (such as damage).
- Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
- Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it slowly worsens over time. If your hearing loss arises all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
- Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
- 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.
- 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 speak, it’s called post-lingual. This will impact the way hearing loss is treated.
- High frequency vs. low frequency: You may have more trouble hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be classified as one or the other.
That may seem like a lot, and it is. The point is that each classification helps us more precisely and effectively treat your symptoms.
Time to get a hearing exam
So how can you be sure which of these categories pertains to your hearing loss scenario? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, regrettably, something that is at all accurate. It will be difficult for you to know, for instance, whether your cochlea is working properly.
But that’s what hearing exams are for! Your loss of hearing is kind of like a “check engine” light. We can help you figure out what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with by connecting you to a wide variety of modern technology.
So contact us as soon as you can and schedule an appointment to find out what’s happening.