Have you ever bought one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be disappointed (and shocked) when the shirt doesn’t, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s sort of a bummer, right? The truth is that there’s almost nothing in the world that is truly a “one size fits all”. That’s not only relevant with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions such as hearing loss. There can be a wide variety of 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 kinds
Everyone’s hearing loss situation will be as individual as they are. Perhaps you hear just fine at the office, but not in a noisy restaurant. Or, maybe certain frequencies of sound get lost. There are a wide variety of forms that your hearing loss can take.
The root cause of your hearing loss will determine 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 totally understand how hearing loss works, or what degree 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 typically supposed to work. Here’s how it breaks down:
- Outer ear: This is the portion of the ear that you can see. It’s where you’re first exposed to a “sound”. The shape of your ear helps direct those sounds into your middle ear (where they are processed further).
- Middle ear: The middle ear is composed of 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. Vibration is detected by these delicate hairs which are then transformed into electrical signals. Your cochlea helps here, also. Our brain then receives this electrical energy.
- Auditory nerve: This nerve directs these electrical signals to the brain.
- Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” includes all of the parts discussed above. The total hearing process depends on all of these elements working in concert with each other. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any problem in one area will typically impact the performance of the entire system.
Varieties of hearing loss
There are numerous types of hearing loss because there are numerous parts of the ear. The underlying cause of your hearing loss will determine which kind of hearing loss you develop.
Here are some of the most prevalent causes:
- Conductive hearing loss: This form of hearing loss occurs because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often in the outer or middle ear. Usually, this blockage is a consequence of fluid or inflammation (this usually happens, for example, when you have an ear infection). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. When the obstruction is removed, hearing will normally return to normal.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: When the tiny hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are usually destroyed. This type of hearing loss is typically chronic, progressive, and irreversible. Usually, individuals are encouraged to wear ear protection to prevent this type of hearing loss. If you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated by devices such as hearing aids.
- Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to have a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. Because the hearing loss is coming from several different places, this can sometimes be difficult to treat.
- Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a fairly rare condition. It takes place when the cochlea does not effectively transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. A device called a cochlear implant is usually used to manage this type of hearing loss.
Each form of hearing loss requires a different treatment method, but the desired results are often the same: improving your hearing ability.
Hearing loss kinds have variations
And there’s more. Any of these common kinds of hearing loss can be further categorized (and more specifically). Here are a few examples:
- Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
- Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This indicates whether your hearing loss is the same in both ears or unequal in both ears.
- High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be classified as one or the other depending on which frequency range is getting lost.
- Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it slowly worsens over time. Hearing loss that appears or presents instantly is known as “sudden”.
- Acquired hearing loss: If you develop hearing loss due to outside causes, like damage, it’s known as “acquired”.
- Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s called pre-lingual. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to speak. This will impact the way hearing loss is treated.
- Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss refers to hearing loss that comes and goes. If your hearing loss stays at around the same levels, it’s known as stable.
- Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. But your hearing loss will be more effectively treated when we’re able to use these categories.
Time to get a hearing exam
So how do you know which type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you have? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, regrettably, something that’s at all accurate. As an example, is your cochlea working correctly, how would you know?
But that’s what hearing exams are for! It’s like when you have a check engine light on in your car and you take it to a qualified auto technician. We can help you identify what type of hearing loss you have by hooking you up to a wide variety of modern technology.
So call us as soon as you can and make an appointment to find out what’s going on.