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. The truth is that there’s almost nothing in the world that is really a “one size fits all”. That’s a fact with t-shirts and it’s also true with medical conditions, such as hearing loss. This can be accurate for many reasons.
So what causes hearing loss? And what is the most common type of hearing loss? Well, that’s precisely what we intend to explore.
There are different types of hearing loss
Everybody’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 problems with high or low-pitched sounds. Your hearing loss can take a wide range of forms.
How your hearing loss presents, in part, could be dictated by what’s causing your symptoms to begin with. Lots of things can go wrong with an organ as intricate as the ear.
How does hearing work?
Before you can totally understand how hearing loss works, or what degree of hearing loss requires a hearing aid, it’s helpful to consider how things are supposed to work, how your ear is typically supposed to work. Check out this breakdown:
- Outer ear: This is the portion of the ear that you can see. It’s where you’re initially 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 eardrum and several tiny bones are what your middle ear is composed of (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 begin translating those vibrations into electrical energy. Your cochlea helps here, too. This electrical energy is then sent to your brain.
- Auditory nerve: This nerve is located in your ear, and it’s responsible for transmitting and sending this electrical energy to your brain.
- Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” encompasses all of the elements discussed above. It’s important to recognize that all of these elements are continually working together and in concert with each other. Typically, in other words, the whole system will be affected if any one part has issues.
Hearing loss varieties
There are multiple types of hearing loss because there are multiple parts of the ear. The underlying cause of your hearing loss will determine which type of hearing loss you experience.
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 occurs. Typically, this blockage is a consequence of fluid or inflammation (this typically happens, for example, when you have an ear infection). Sometimes, conductive hearing loss can be caused by a growth in the ear canal. Once the blockage is eliminated, hearing will usually return to normal.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: When the delicate hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are usually destroyed. Usually, this is a chronic, progressive and irreversible type of hearing loss. Typically, individuals are encouraged to wear hearing protection to prevent this kind of hearing loss. 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. Because the hearing loss is coming from numerous different places, this can sometimes be challenging to manage.
- Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a fairly rare condition. When sound is not properly transmitted from your ear to your brain, this type of hearing loss happens. A device known as a cochlear implant is normally used to manage this type of hearing loss.
The desired results are the same even though the treatment option will vary for each type of hearing loss: to improve or preserve your ability to hear.
Variations on hearing loss types
And there’s more. Any of these normal types of hearing loss can be categorized further (and more specifically). For instance, hearing loss can also be classified as:
- Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s called “congenital”.
- Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually worsens over time. If your hearing loss arises all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
- Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either experiencing hearing loss in only one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
- Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops as a result of outside causes (such as damage).
- Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This indicates whether your hearing loss is the same in both ears or unequal in both ears.
- Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to talk, it’s called pre-lingual. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to talk. This will impact the way hearing loss is managed.
- High frequency vs. low frequency: You might experience more difficulty hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be classified as one or the other.
- Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss describes hearing loss that appears and disappears. If your hearing loss stays at roughly the same levels, it’s called stable.
If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. The point is that each classification helps us more precisely and effectively address your symptoms.
A hearing test is in order
So how can you tell which type, and what sub-type, of hearing loss you’re experiencing? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can self-diagnose with much accuracy. It will be hard for you to know, for example, whether your cochlea is functioning properly.
But that’s what hearing tests are for! It’s like when you have a check engine light on in your car and you take it to a skilled auto technician. We can connect you to a wide variety of machines, and help establish what type of hearing loss you have.
So the best way to determine what’s happening is to make an appointment with us as soon as you can!