Have you ever purchased one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be dismayed (and shocked) when the shirt does not, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s kind of a bummer, right? 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 such as hearing loss. This can be accurate for many reasons.
So what’s the cause of hearing loss? And what is the most common type of hearing loss? Let’s find out!
There are different types of hearing loss
Because hearing is such a complex 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 crowded restaurant. Or perhaps you only have problems with high-pitched voices or low-pitched sounds. There are a wide variety of forms that your hearing loss can take.
The root cause of your hearing loss will dictate how it manifests. Because your ear is a fairly complex little organ, there are lots 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 requires a hearing aid, it’s helpful to consider how things are supposed to function, how your ear is typically 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”. Sounds are efficiently guided into your middle ear for further processing by the shape of your outer ear.
- 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. These delicate hairs detect vibrations and begin translating those vibrations into electrical signals. Your cochlea helps here, too. Our brain then receives these electrical signals.
- Auditory nerve: This nerve sends these electrical signals to the brain.
- Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” encompasses all of the parts discussed above. It’s essential to recognize that all of these parts are continually working together and in concert with each other. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any issue in one area will typically affect the performance of the entire system.
Types of hearing loss
Because there are numerous parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) numerous types 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, usually the middle or outer ear, this form of hearing loss occurs. Usually, this blockage is due to fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this typically occurs). Sometimes, conductive hearing loss can be the result of a growth in the ear canal. Once the obstruction is removed, hearing will normally return to normal.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: When the fragile hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are normally destroyed. Usually, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent type of hearing loss. Typically, individuals are encouraged to wear ear protection to avoid this type of hearing loss. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, it can be effectively managed with hearing aids.
- Mixed hearing loss: It occasionally happens that somebody will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss simultaneously. Because the hearing loss is coming from numerous different places, this can sometimes be difficult to manage.
- Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s relatively rare for somebody to develop ANSD. It takes place when the cochlea does not properly transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. 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 option will differ for each type of hearing loss: improving your hearing ability.
Hearing loss kinds have variations
And that isn’t all! We can analyze and categorize these common types of hearing loss even more specifically. Here are a few examples:
- Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s known as pre-lingual. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to speak, it’s known as post-lingual. This will affect the way hearing loss is treated.
- 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.
- Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either going through hearing loss in only one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
- Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually gets worse over time. If your hearing loss happens all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
- High frequency vs. low frequency: You might have more trouble hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be categorized as one or the other.
- Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency 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: If you experience hearing loss because of outside forces, like damage, it’s called “acquired”.
- Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
That may seem like a lot, and it is. The point is that each classification helps us more accurately and effectively address your symptoms.
Time to get a hearing test
So how do you know what type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you have? 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 working correctly.
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 qualified auto technician. We can connect you to a wide variety of machines, and help determine what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with.
So the best way to determine what’s going on is to make an appointment with us as soon as you can!