Shot of a senior man drinking coffee and looking thoughtfully out of a window wondering about hearing loss.

Have you ever bought 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? That’s truly annoying. The truth is that there’s pretty much nothing in the world that is really a “one size fits all”. That’s true with t-shirts and it’s also true with medical conditions, such as hearing loss. This can be true for many reasons.

So what’s the cause of hearing loss? And what’s the most prevalent kind of hearing loss? Well, that’s exactly what we intend to explore.

Hearing loss comes in different kinds

Because hearing is such an intricate mental and physical process, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Perhaps when you’re in a crowded restaurant you can’t hear very well, but at work, you hear just fine. Or perhaps you only have problems with high or low-pitched sounds. There are a wide variety of forms that your hearing loss can take.

How your hearing loss shows up, in part, might be dictated by what causes your symptoms in the first place. Because your ear is a rather complex little organ, there are lots of things that can go wrong.

How your hearing works

It’s helpful to get an idea of how hearing is supposed to work before we can understand what degree of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid. Check out this breakdown:

  • Outer ear: This is the part of the ear that you can see. It’s the initial sound receiver. Sounds are efficiently funneled 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 several tiny ear bones (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
  • Inner ear: This is where your stereocilia are found. Vibration is picked up by these little hairs which are then transformed into electrical energy. Your cochlea plays a part in this too. Our brain then receives this electrical energy.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve is located in your ear, and it’s responsible for channeling and sending this electrical energy to your brain.
  • Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” includes all of the parts discussed above. It’s essential to recognize that all of these elements are continually working together and in concert with each other. Usually, in other words, the whole system will be impacted if any one part has problems.

Hearing loss types

There are multiple types of hearing loss because there are numerous parts of the ear. Which form you develop will depend on the underlying cause.

Here are some of the most common causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This type of hearing loss occurs because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, frequently in the outer or middle ear. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the reason for this blockage (this typically happens, for instance, when you have an ear infection). Sometimes, conductive hearing loss can be caused by a growth in the ear canal. Normally, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will go back to normal when the blockage is gone.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the fragile hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are usually destroyed. This type of hearing loss is usually chronic, progressive, and irreversible. Because of this, individuals are usually encouraged to prevent this type of hearing loss by using hearing protection. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, it can be effectively 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 sometimes be hard to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s relatively rare for someone to develop ANSD. When sound isn’t properly transmitted from your ear to your brain, this type of hearing loss happens. ANSD can usually be managed with a device called a cochlear implant.

The desired results are the same even though the treatment solution will vary for each type of hearing loss: improving your hearing ability.

Variations on hearing loss types

And there’s more. We can break down and categorize these common types of hearing loss even more specifically. For instance, hearing loss can also be classified as:

  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s known as pre-lingual. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to talk. This can have ramifications for treatment and adaptation.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops as a consequence of outside forces (like damage).
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that slowly gets worse over time is called “progressive”. If your hearing loss occurs all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
  • 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.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be categorized as one or the other depending on which frequency range is getting lost.
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss tends to come and go, it may be referred to as fluctuating. Stable hearing loss stays at around the same level.

That may seem like a lot, and it is. The point is that each classification helps us more accurately and effectively manage your symptoms.

Time to have a hearing test

So how can you be sure which of these categories applies to your hearing loss situation? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, unfortunately, something that is at all accurate. For instance, is your cochlea working properly, how would you know?

But you can get a hearing exam to find out precisely what’s happening. Your loss of hearing is kind of like a “check engine” light. 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 understand what’s going on is to make an appointment with us as soon as you can!

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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