Have you ever seen a t-shirt advertised as “one size fits all” but when you went to put it on, you were disheartened to find that it didn’t fit at all? That’s truly frustrating. The reality is that there’s virtually nothing in the world that is really a “one size fits all”. That’s not only relevant with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions like hearing loss. This can be true for many reasons.
So what causes hearing loss? And what’s the most common type of hearing loss? Well, that’s exactly what we intend to find out.
Hearing loss comes in different types
Because hearing is such an intricate 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. Your loss of hearing can take a wide range of forms.
The underlying cause of your hearing loss will dictate how it manifests. Lots of things can go wrong with an organ as complex as the ear.
How does hearing work?
Before you can totally understand how hearing loss works, or what degree of hearing loss requires a hearing aid, it’s practical to consider how things are supposed to function, how your ear is typically supposed to work. Check out this breakdown:
- Outer ear: This is the visible portion of the ear. It’s where you’re 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 eardrum and a few tiny bones are what your middle ear is composed of (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
- Inner ear: This is where your stereocilia are found. These fragile hairs detect vibrations and start converting those vibrations into electrical signals. Your cochlea helps here, also. Our brain then receives these electrical signals.
- Auditory nerve: This nerve is located in your ear, and it’s responsible for transmitting and sending this electrical energy towards your brain.
- Auditory system: All of the parts 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 continually working together and in unison with each other. Usually, in other words, the entire system will be impacted if any one part has issues.
Hearing loss types
Because there are numerous parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) multiple types of hearing loss. Which type you experience will depend on the underlying cause.
Here are some of the most common causes:
- Conductive hearing loss: This kind of hearing loss occurs because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, frequently in the middle or outer ear. Typically, this blockage is a consequence of fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this usually occurs). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. Once the blockage is removed, hearing will normally go back to normal.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud noise, the tiny hair cells which pick up sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. This type of hearing loss is generally chronic, progressive, and irreversible. As a result, people are usually encouraged to avoid this kind of hearing loss by using ear protection. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated by devices like hearing aids.
- Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to have a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. Because the hearing loss is coming from several different places, this can sometimes be difficult to manage.
- Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a relatively rare condition. When sound isn’t properly transmitted from your ear to your brain, this type of hearing loss occurs. ANSD can usually be managed with a device called a cochlear implant.
The desired results are the same even though the treatment option will vary for each form of hearing loss: improving your hearing ability.
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 a few examples:
- Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss as a result of external forces, like damage, it’s known as “acquired”.
- Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to experience hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
- Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to come and go, it might 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 gets worse over time. If your hearing loss happens all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
- 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 can have implications for treatment and adaptation.
- 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 equal in both ears or unequal in both ears.
- High frequency vs. low frequency: You might have more difficulty hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be classified as one or the other.
If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. The point is that each categorization helps us more accurately and effectively treat your symptoms.
A hearing test is in order
So how do you know which type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you have? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, unfortunately, something that’s at all accurate. It will be hard for you to determine, for example, whether your cochlea is working correctly.
But you can get a hearing test to determine exactly what’s happening. Your loss of hearing is sort of like a “check engine” light. We can connect you to a wide range of machines, and help establish what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with.
So the best way to understand what’s happening is to make an appointment with us as soon as you can!