Have you ever bought one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be disappointed (and surprised) when the shirt does not, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s sort of a bummer, isn’t it? The fact is that there’s almost nothing in the world that is truly a “one size fits all”. That’s true with t-shirts and it’s also relevant with medical conditions, like hearing loss. This can be accurate for numerous reasons.
So what are the most common kinds of hearing loss and what are their causes? Well, that’s exactly what we intend to find out.
Hearing loss comes in different forms
Everyone’s hearing loss scenario will be as unique as they are. Maybe when you’re in a noisy restaurant you can’t hear that well, but at work, you hear just fine. Or perhaps you only have trouble with high or low-pitched sounds. Your loss of hearing can take a wide range of forms.
The underlying cause of your hearing loss will determine how it manifests. Any number of things can go wrong with an organ as complex as the ear.
How does hearing work?
It’s useful to get an understanding of how hearing is supposed to work before we can understand what degree of hearing loss requires a hearing aid. Check out this breakdown:
- Outer ear: This is the part of the ear that’s visible. It’s where you are first 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 middle ear consists of your eardrum and several 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 picked up by these delicate hairs which are then transformed into electrical energy. Your cochlea helps here, also. Our brain then receives these electrical signals.
- Auditory nerve: This nerve is located in your ear, and it’s responsible for transmitting and directing this electrical energy to your brain.
- Auditory system: All of the components listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are elements of your “auditory system”. The total hearing process depends on all of these components working in concert with each other. Usually, in other words, the entire system will be impacted if any one part has issues.
Hearing loss types
There are numerous forms of hearing loss because there are multiple parts of the ear. Which form you experience 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 form of hearing loss happens. Typically, this blockage is due to fluid or inflammation (this usually happens, for example, when you have an ear infection). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. When the blockage is removed, hearing will normally go back to normal.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: When the tiny hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are normally destroyed. Normally, this is a chronic, progressive and irreversible form of hearing loss. As a result, people are normally encouraged to avoid this kind of hearing loss by wearing ear protection. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, it can be successfully managed with hearing aids.
- Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to experience a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. This can often be difficult to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
- Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s fairly rare for someone to develop ANSD. When sound is not properly transmitted from your ear to your brain, this kind of hearing loss occurs. ANSD can usually be treated with a device called a cochlear implant.
The desired results are the same even though the treatment option will differ for each form of hearing loss: to improve or maintain your ability to hear.
Variations on hearing loss types
And there’s more. Any of these normal kinds of hearing loss can be further categorized (and more specifically). Here are a few examples:
- Acquired hearing loss: If you develop hearing loss as a result of outside causes, like damage, it’s known as “acquired”.
- Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss describes hearing loss that appears and disappears. If your hearing loss remains at roughly the same levels, it’s known as stable.
- Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
- Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is called pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to talk. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to talk, it’s called post-lingual. This will impact the way hearing loss is managed.
- 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”.
- High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be classified as one or the other depending on which frequency range is getting lost.
- Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
- Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This tells you whether your hearing loss is equal in both ears or unequal in both ears.
If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. The point is that each categorization helps us more accurately and effectively address your symptoms.
A hearing exam is in order
So how do you know what type, and what sub-type, of hearing loss you have? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, unfortunately, something that is at all accurate. For instance, is your cochlea functioning correctly, how would you know?
But that’s what hearing tests are for! Your loss of hearing is kind of like a “check engine” light. We can help you determine what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with by hooking you up to a wide variety of modern technology.
So the best way to figure out what’s happening is to schedule an appointment with us today!