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. There aren’t actually very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. That’s true with t-shirts and it’s also relevant with medical conditions, like hearing loss. This can be true for many reasons.
So what causes hearing loss? And what is the most common type of hearing loss? Let’s find out!
There are different forms of hearing loss
Because hearing is such a complex cognitive and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be exactly the same. Perhaps you hear perfectly well at the office, but not in a noisy restaurant. Or, maybe specific frequencies of sound get lost. Your loss of hearing can take a wide variety of forms.
How your hearing loss presents, in part, may be determined by what’s causing your symptoms to begin with. Because your ear is a fairly complex little organ, there are any number of things that can go wrong.
How your hearing works
Before you can totally understand how hearing loss works, or what level of hearing loss requires 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 part of the ear that you can see. 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 eardrum and a few 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: Your stereocilia are found hear. These tiny hairs pick up on vibrations and begin converting those vibrations into electrical energy. Your cochlea plays a part in this too. Our brain then receives these electrical signals.
- 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 elements of your “auditory system”. It’s important to understand that all of these components are constantly working together and in concert with one another. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any issue 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) numerous forms of hearing loss. Which type you develop will depend on the underlying cause.
Here are some of the most prevalent 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. Usually, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this typically happens). Sometimes, conductive hearing loss can be the result of a growth in the ear canal. Usually, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will go back to normal once the obstruction is gone.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud sound, the tiny hair cells which detect sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. This type of hearing loss is generally chronic, progressive, and irreversible. As a result, people are usually encouraged to avoid this type of hearing loss by using ear protection. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, it can be successfully managed with hearing aids.
- Mixed hearing loss: It sometimes happens that a person will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss at the same time. This can often 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. It occurs when the cochlea doesn’t properly transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. A device known as a cochlear implant is usually used to treat this type of hearing loss.
The desired results are the same even though the treatment solution will differ for each type of hearing loss: to improve or preserve your ability to hear.
Hearing loss kinds have variations
And that’s not all! Any of these common kinds of hearing loss can be categorized further (and with more specificity). For instance, hearing loss can also be classified as:
- Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that gradually worsens over time is called “progressive”. Hearing loss that erupts or shows up instantly is called “sudden”.
- High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be classified as one or the other depending on which frequency range is getting lost.
- Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that happens due to outside causes (such as damage).
- 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 speak. This will affect the way hearing loss is managed.
- Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to appear and disappear, it may be referred to as fluctuating. If your hearing loss stays at around the same levels, it’s called stable.
- Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
- 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 isn’t the same in both ears it’s asymmetrical.
If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. But your hearing loss will be more successfully managed when we’re able to use these categories.
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, unfortunately, something that is at all accurate. As an example, is your cochlea working correctly, how would you know?
But you can get a hearing exam to determine exactly what’s going on. 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 help you identify what type of hearing loss you have by connecting you to a wide variety of modern technology.
So give us a call today and schedule an appointment to find out what’s happening.