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 truly frustrating. The reality is that there’s pretty much 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 true for numerous reasons.
So what are the most common types of hearing loss and what causes them? Let’s see what we can find out!
There are different kinds of hearing loss
Because hearing is such an intricate cognitive and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Maybe you hear just fine at the office, but not in a noisy restaurant. Or maybe you only have problems with high or low-pitched sounds. Your hearing loss can take a wide variety of shapes.
The underlying cause of your hearing loss will dictate how it manifests. Lots of things can go wrong with an organ as complex as the ear.
How your hearing works
Before you can totally understand how hearing loss works, or what level of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid, it’s practical to think a bit about how things are supposed to work, how your ear is generally 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’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 some tiny bones are what your middle ear is composed of (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
- Inner ear: Your stereocilia are found hear. These delicate hairs detect vibrations and begin converting those vibrations into electrical energy. Your cochlea helps here, too. Our brain then receives these electrical signals.
- Auditory nerve: This nerve is inside of your ear, and it’s responsible for transmitting and directing 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 essential to understand that all of these parts are continually working together and in unison with one another. In other words, the system is interconnected, so any issue in one area will usually affect the performance of the entire system.
Types of hearing loss
Because there are multiple parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) multiple types of hearing loss. The root cause of your hearing loss will determine which kind of hearing loss you experience.
Here are some of the most common causes:
- Conductive hearing loss: This type of hearing loss occurs because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often in the middle or outer ear. Usually, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (this usually 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 obstruction is removed, hearing will normally go back to normal.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: When the fragile hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are normally destroyed. Normally, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent type of hearing loss. As a result, individuals are usually encouraged to prevent this kind of hearing loss by wearing ear protection. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, it can be successfully treated 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 several different places, this can sometimes be challenging to treat.
- Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s relatively rare for somebody to develop ANSD. It takes place when the cochlea doesn’t properly transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. A device known as a cochlear implant is normally used to manage this type of hearing loss.
Each type of hearing loss calls for 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 that’s not all! Any of these common types of hearing loss can be categorized further (and with more specificity). Here are a few examples:
- Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss because of external causes, like damage, it’s called “acquired”.
- 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.
- Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that gradually gets worse over time is called “progressive”. Hearing loss that erupts or presents immediately is known as “sudden”.
- Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
- Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to talk, it’s known as pre-lingual. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to talk. This will impact the way hearing loss is addressed.
- 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.
- Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to come and go, it might be referred to as fluctuating. If your hearing loss stays at roughly the same levels, it’s known as stable.
- Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either experiencing hearing loss in just one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. But your hearing loss will be more effectively managed when we’re able to use these categories.
Time to get a hearing test
So how can you tell what type, and what sub-type, of hearing loss you have? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, unfortunately, something that’s at all accurate. As an example, is your cochlea working properly, how would you know?
But that’s what hearing exams are for! Your loss of hearing is kind of like a “check engine” light. We can hook you up to a wide range of machines, and help determine what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with.
So the best way to figure out what’s going on is to schedule an appointment with us today!
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