Have you ever purchased one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be dismayed (and shocked) when the shirt doesn’t, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s kind of a bummer, isn’t it? There aren’t actually 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 like hearing loss. This can be accurate for many reasons.
So what’s the cause of hearing loss? And what is the most prevalent kind of hearing loss? Well, that’s precisely what we intend to find out.
There are different kinds of hearing loss
Because hearing is such a complex mental and physical process, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Maybe when you’re in a crowded restaurant you can’t hear very well, but at work, you hear 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 root cause of your hearing loss will dictate how it manifests. Any number of things can go wrong with an organ as complex as the ear.
How your hearing works
It’s helpful to get an understanding of how hearing is supposed to work before we can determine what level of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid. Check out this breakdown:
- Outer ear: This is the visible portion of the ear. It’s where you’re first 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 consists 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: Your stereocilia are found hear. Vibration is picked up by these delicate hairs which are then transformed into electrical signals. Your cochlea helps here, too. These electrical signals are then sent to your brain.
- Auditory nerve: This nerve is located in your ear, and it’s responsible for channeling and directing this electrical energy towards your brain.
- Auditory system: All of the components listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are elements of your “auditory system”. It’s important to understand that all of these components are constantly working together and in unison with one another. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any issue in one area will typically impact the performance of the entire system.
Hearing loss types
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 root cause.
Here are some of the most common causes:
- Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often the middle or outer ear, this type of hearing loss happens. Usually, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (this usually happens, for instance, when you have an ear infection). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. Usually, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will return to normal as soon as the obstruction is gone.
- 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 usually chronic, progressive, and permanent. Typically, individuals are encouraged to use ear protection to prevent this type of hearing loss. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, 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 sometimes be difficult to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
- Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a relatively rare condition. When sound is not properly transmitted from your ear to your brain, this kind of hearing loss happens. A device known as a cochlear implant is normally used to treat this kind of hearing loss.
Each form of hearing loss requires a different treatment strategy, but the desired results are often the same: improving your hearing ability.
Variations on hearing loss types
And there’s more. Any of these normal types of hearing loss can be categorized further (and with more specificity). Here are some examples:
- Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss because of outside causes, like damage, it’s known as “acquired”.
- Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This indicates whether your hearing loss is equal in both ears or unequal in both ears.
- Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
- Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either going through hearing loss in only one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
- High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be categorized as one or the other depending on what frequency range is getting lost.
- Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to come and go, it may be referred to as fluctuating. Stable hearing loss stays at around the same level.
- Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s called 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 managed.
- Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it slowly gets worse over time. Hearing loss that appears or presents immediately is known as “sudden”.
If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. The point is that each classification helps us more accurately and effectively treat your symptoms.
Time to get a hearing test
So how can you tell which type, and what sub-type, of hearing loss you’re experiencing? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can self-diagnose with much accuracy. For instance, is your cochlea functioning correctly, how would you know?
But you can get a hearing exam to find out exactly what’s happening. Your loss of hearing is sort of like a “check engine” light. We can hook you up to a wide range of machines, and help establish what type of hearing loss you have.
So the best way to determine what’s happening is to schedule an appointment with us as soon as you can!