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

Have you ever seen a t-shirt promoted as “one size fits all” but when you went to put it on, you were discouraged to find that it didn’t fit at all? That’s really aggravating. The fact is that there’s virtually nothing in the world that is really a “one size fits all”. That’s true with t-shirts and it’s also relevant with medical conditions, such as hearing loss. There can be many reasons why it happens.

So what are the most prevalent kinds of hearing loss and what causes them? Let’s see what we can find out!

There are different types of hearing loss

Because hearing is such a complex mental and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Perhaps you hear just fine at the office, but not in a noisy restaurant. Or maybe you only have difficulty with high-pitched voices or low-pitched sounds. There are numerous forms that your hearing loss can take.

How your hearing loss shows up, in part, could be determined by what causes your symptoms to begin with. Because your ear is a rather complex little organ, there are lots 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 usually supposed to work. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Outer ear: This is the part of the ear that you can see. It’s where you are initially exposed to a “sound”. Sounds are effectively funneled into your middle ear for further processing due to the shape of your outer ear.
  • 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: This is where your stereocilia are found. These tiny hairs pick up on vibrations and start translating those vibrations into electrical energy. Your cochlea helps here, too. 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 components working in concert with each other. In other words, the system is interconnected, so any issue in one area will typically affect the performance of the entire system.

Types of hearing loss

There are multiple forms of hearing loss because there are numerous parts of the ear. The root cause of your hearing loss will determine which kind of hearing loss you experience.

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. Typically, this blockage is a consequence of fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for example, this usually happens). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. Once the obstruction is eliminated, 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 usually destroyed. This type of hearing loss is generally chronic, progressive, and permanent. As a result, individuals are usually encouraged to avoid this kind of hearing loss by wearing ear protection. If you have 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. This can often be challenging to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s relatively rare for somebody to develop ANSD. When sound isn’t effectively transmitted from your ear to your brain, this type of hearing loss happens. ANSD can normally be managed with a device known as a cochlear implant.

The desired results are the same even though the treatment option will differ for each type of hearing loss: to improve or maintain your ability to hear.

Hearing loss kinds have variations

And there’s more. We can break down and categorize these common types of hearing loss even more specifically. Here are some examples:

  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that slowly worsens over time is called “progressive”. If your hearing loss happens all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to come and go, it might be referred to as fluctuating. Stable hearing loss stays at about the same level.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to experience hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • 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 talk, it’s called post-lingual. This will affect the way hearing loss is addressed.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that happens as a consequence of outside forces (such as damage).
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be categorized as one or the other depending on what frequency range is getting lost.
  • 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.

That might seem like a lot, and it is. But your hearing loss will be more effectively treated when we’re able to use these classifications.

A hearing exam is in order

So how can you tell which type, and what sub-type, of hearing loss you have? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can self-diagnose with much accuracy. It will be difficult for you to determine, for instance, whether your cochlea is functioning correctly.

But that’s what hearing exams are for! Your loss of hearing is kind of like a “check engine” light. We can connect you to a wide variety of machines, and help establish what type of hearing loss you have.

So the best way to understand what’s going on is to schedule 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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