Have you ever purchased one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be dismayed (and surprised) when the shirt does not, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s sort of a bummer, right? There aren’t actually very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. That’s not only true with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions like hearing loss. There can be numerous reasons why it happens.
So what are the most common types of hearing loss and what are their causes? Let’s find out!
There are different types of hearing loss
Everybody’s hearing loss situation will be as unique as they are. Maybe when you’re in a crowded restaurant you can’t hear very well, but when you’re at work, you hear fine. Or perhaps you only have trouble with high or low-pitched sounds. There are numerous forms that your hearing loss can take.
How your hearing loss presents, in part, may be dictated by what causes your symptoms in the first place. Because your ear is a very complex little organ, there are any number 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 helpful to consider 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 portion of the ear that’s visible. It’s where you’re initially exposed to a “sound”. Sounds are effectively funneled into your middle ear for further processing by 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. Vibration is picked up by these little hairs which are then transformed into electrical energy. Your cochlea helps here, too. This electrical energy is then transmitted to your brain.
- 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: All of the elements listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are elements of your “auditory system”. The complete hearing process depends on all of these parts working in unison with each other. Typically, in other words, the whole system will be impacted if any one part has issues.
Hearing loss types
There are numerous types of hearing loss because there are numerous parts of the ear. The root cause of your hearing loss will determine which type of hearing loss you experience.
Here are some of the most common causes:
- Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, usually the middle or outer ear, this form of hearing loss happens. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (this typically happens, for example, when you have an ear infection). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. Usually, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will go back to normal as soon as the blockage has been removed.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: When the delicate hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are normally destroyed. This type of hearing loss is generally chronic, progressive, and permanent. Typically, people are encouraged to use hearing protection to prevent this type of hearing loss. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, it can be effectively treated with hearing aids.
- Mixed hearing loss: It sometimes happens that someone will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss at the same time. Because the hearing loss is coming from numerous different places, this can sometimes be difficult to treat.
- Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s fairly rare for somebody 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 managed with a device known as a cochlear implant.
The desired results are the same even though the treatment solution will differ for each type of hearing loss: 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). For example, hearing loss can also be classified as:
- Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
- Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is called pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to talk. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to speak. This will impact the way hearing loss is treated.
- 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: This means you’re either going through hearing loss in just one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
- Symmetrical or asymmetrical: If your hearing loss is the same in both ears it’s symmetrical and if it isn’t the same in both ears it’s asymmetrical.
- Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to come and go, it might be referred to as fluctuating. Stable hearing loss remains at around the same level.
- Acquired hearing loss: If you develop hearing loss as a result of outside forces, such as damage, it’s known as “acquired”.
- Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it slowly worsens over time. Hearing loss that erupts or shows up 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 manage your symptoms.
Time to get a hearing exam
So how do you know which type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you have? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can accurately diagnose by yourself. For instance, is your cochlea functioning correctly, how would you know?
But that’s what hearing tests are for! It’s like when you have a check engine light on in your car and you bring it to a skilled auto technician. We can help you figure out what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with by connecting you to a wide range of modern technology.
So the best way to understand what’s happening is to schedule an appointment with us today!