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, right? There aren’t really very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. That’s a fact with t-shirts and it’s also true with medical conditions, such as hearing loss. This can be accurate for many reasons.
So what are the most common kinds of hearing loss and what causes them? Well, that’s exactly what we intend to explore.
Hearing loss comes in different kinds
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 noisy restaurant you can’t hear that well, but at work, you hear just fine. Or, perhaps specific frequencies of sound get lost. There are numerous forms that your hearing loss can take.
The underlying cause of your hearing loss will dictate how it manifests. Because your ear is a fairly complex little organ, there are lots of things that can go wrong.
How your hearing works
Before you can completely understand how hearing loss works, or what level of hearing loss requires a hearing aid, it’s helpful to consider how things are supposed to function, how your ear is usually supposed to work. Here’s how it breaks down:
- Outer ear: This is the visible part of the ear. It’s the initial sound receiver. Sounds are effectively funneled into your middle ear for further processing due to the shape of your outer ear.
- 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: Your stereocilia are found hear. These fragile hairs detect vibrations and start converting those vibrations 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 directing this electrical energy towards your brain.
- Auditory system: All of the elements listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are elements of your “auditory system”. The overall hearing process depends on all of these parts working in concert with one another. Usually, in other words, the entire system will be impacted if any one part has problems.
Varieties of hearing loss
There are multiple 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 develop.
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. Usually, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (this typically happens, for instance, when you have an ear infection). Sometimes, conductive hearing loss can be the result of a growth in the ear canal. When the blockage is removed, hearing will normally go back to normal.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud sound, the fragile hair cells which pick up sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. This type of hearing loss is generally chronic, progressive, and permanent. Usually, people are encouraged to wear ear protection to prevent this kind of hearing loss. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, it can be effectively treated with hearing aids.
- Mixed hearing loss: It occasionally happens that a person will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss at the same time. This can sometimes 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. It takes place when the cochlea doesn’t effectively transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. A device called a cochlear implant is normally used to manage this kind of hearing loss.
Each form of hearing loss requires a different treatment approach, but the desired results are usually the same: to improve or maintain your ability to hear.
Hearing loss types have variations
And there’s more. Any of these common types of hearing loss can be categorized further (and with more specificity). For instance, hearing loss can also be classified as:
- High frequency vs. low frequency: You might experience more difficulty hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be classified as one or the other.
- Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either going through hearing loss in just one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
- Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to come and go, it may be referred to as fluctuating. If your hearing loss stays at around the same levels, it’s called stable.
- Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually worsens over time. If your hearing loss occurs all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
- Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops as a result of outside causes (like damage).
- Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
- Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This tells you whether your hearing loss is the same in both ears or unequal in both ears.
- Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s called pre-lingual. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to speak. This will affect the way hearing loss is treated.
That may seem like a lot, and it is. But your hearing loss will be more effectively treated when we’re able to use these classifications.
Time to have a hearing exam
So how do you know what type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you’re experiencing? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, regrettably, something that is at all accurate. It will be hard for you to determine, for instance, whether your cochlea is functioning correctly.
But that’s what hearing tests are for! Your loss of hearing is sort of like a “check engine” light. We can help you figure out what type of hearing loss you have by connecting you to a wide variety of modern technology.
So contact us today and schedule an appointment to find out what’s going on.