Have you ever seen a t-shirt advertised as “one size fits all” but when you went to put it on, you were disheartened to find that it didn’t fit at all? That’s really aggravating. The fact is that there’s almost nothing in the world that is really a “one size fits all”. That’s not only true with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions like hearing loss. There can be a wide variety of reasons why it happens.
So what are the most prevalent kinds of hearing loss and what causes them? Well, that’s precisely what we intend to find out.
Hearing loss comes in different forms
Because hearing is such a complex cognitive and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be exactly the same. Maybe when you’re in a noisy restaurant you can’t hear that well, but at work, you hear fine. Or, maybe specific frequencies of sound get lost. Your hearing loss can take a variety of shapes.
How your hearing loss shows up, in part, may be dictated by what’s causing your symptoms to begin with. Any number of things can go wrong with an organ as intricate as the ear.
How does hearing work?
Before you can completely understand how hearing loss works, or what level of hearing loss requires a hearing aid, it’s helpful 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 visible part of the ear. 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 middle ear comprises your eardrum and a few tiny ear bones (yes, you have bones in your ear, but they are admittedly very, very tiny).
- Inner ear: Your stereocilia are found hear. Vibration is picked up by these little hairs which are then transformed into electrical energy. Your cochlea plays a role in this also. This electrical energy is then carried to your brain.
- Auditory nerve: This nerve is located in your ear, and it’s responsible for transmitting and sending this electrical energy towards 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 understand that all of these elements 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
There are numerous types of hearing loss because there are numerous parts of the ear. Which form you develop will depend on the underlying cause.
The common types of hearing loss include:
- Conductive hearing loss: This kind of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often in the outer or middle ear. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the reason for this blockage (this usually happens, for example, when you have an ear infection). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. Once the obstruction is removed, hearing will normally return to normal.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud sound, the tiny hair cells which detect sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. Usually, this is a chronic, progressive and irreversible type of hearing loss. Usually, individuals are encouraged to use hearing protection to avoid this kind of hearing loss. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated by devices like hearing aids.
- Mixed hearing loss: It sometimes happens that a person will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss at the same time. Because the hearing loss is coming from several different places, this can sometimes be difficult to manage.
- Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s relatively rare for someone to develop ANSD. It happens when the cochlea does not properly 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 calls for a different treatment approach, but the desired results are often the same: improving your hearing ability.
Variations on hearing loss types
And there’s more. We can analyze and categorize these common forms of hearing loss even more specifically. For example, hearing loss can also be classified as:
- Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either experiencing hearing loss in just one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
- Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
- Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that happens as a consequence of outside forces (like damage).
- Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss describes hearing loss that appears and disappears. Stable hearing loss remains at relatively the same level.
- High frequency vs. low frequency: You might experience more trouble hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be categorized as one or the other.
- Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually worsens over time. If your hearing loss arises all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
- Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is known as pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to talk. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to talk, it’s known as post-lingual. This will impact the way hearing loss is managed.
- Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This indicates whether your hearing loss is the same in both ears or unequal in both ears.
If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. The point is that each classification helps us more accurately and effectively manage your symptoms.
A hearing exam is in order
So how do you know what type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you’re experiencing? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, regrettably, something that’s at all accurate. For instance, is your cochlea working properly, how would you know?
But you can get a hearing test to find out precisely what’s happening. Your loss of hearing is sort of like a “check engine” light. We can help you identify what type of hearing loss you have by connecting you to a wide range of modern technology.
So call us as soon as you can and make an appointment to figure out what’s happening.