Have you ever seen a t-shirt advertised as “one size fits all” but when you went to try it on, you were discouraged to find that it didn’t fit at all? That’s really annoying. 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 such as hearing loss. This can be true for many reasons.
So what causes hearing loss? And what’s the most prevalent type of hearing loss? Let’s find out!
There are different forms of hearing loss
Because hearing is such a complex cognitive 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 crowded restaurant. Or, maybe certain frequencies of sound get lost. Your hearing loss can take a wide variety of forms.
How your hearing loss presents, in part, could be dictated by what causes your symptoms to begin with. Because your ear is a very complex little organ, there are lots of things that can go wrong.
How your hearing works
It’s helpful to get an understanding of how hearing is supposed to work before we can figure out what degree of hearing loss requires a hearing aid. Check out this breakdown:
- Outer ear: This is the visible part of the ear. It’s where you’re initially exposed to a “sound”. Sounds are efficiently guided 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 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 detected by these delicate hairs which are then transformed into electrical signals. Your cochlea plays a part in this too. Our brain then receives these electrical signals.
- Auditory nerve: This nerve is inside of your ear, and it’s responsible for transmitting and sending this electrical energy towards your brain.
- Auditory system: All of the elements listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are components of your “auditory system”. The total hearing process depends on all of these elements working in unison with each other. Usually, in other words, the whole system will be impacted if any one part has issues.
Types of hearing loss
Because there are numerous parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) numerous types of hearing loss. Which form you develop will depend on the root cause.
Here are some of the most prevalent causes:
- Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, usually the middle or outer ear, this type of hearing loss occurs. Typically, this blockage is due to fluid or inflammation (this usually happens, for instance, when you have an ear infection). In some cases, conductive hearing loss can be caused by a growth in the ear canal. Typically, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will return to normal once the blockage is gone.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: When the tiny hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are usually destroyed. This form of hearing loss is typically chronic, progressive, and irreversible. Because of this, people are usually encouraged to prevent this type of hearing loss by wearing ear protection. If you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated by devices like hearing aids.
- Mixed hearing loss: It sometimes happens that a person will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss simultaneously. This can often 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 occurs when the cochlea does not effectively transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. ANSD can usually be treated with a device known as a cochlear implant.
The desired results are the same even though the treatment option will vary for each type of hearing loss: to improve or preserve your ability to hear.
Hearing loss types have variations
And there’s more. Any of these normal kinds of hearing loss can be categorized further (and with more specificity). For instance, hearing loss can also be classified as:
- Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
- Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
- Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This tells you whether your hearing loss is equal in both ears or unequal in both ears.
- 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.
- Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it slowly gets worse over time. Hearing loss that erupts or shows up instantly is called “sudden”.
- Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops as a consequence of outside forces (like damage).
- High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be categorized as one or the other depending on which frequency range is getting lost.
- Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s known as pre-lingual. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to speak. This can have implications for treatment and adaptation.
If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. The point is that each classification helps us more accurately and effectively address your symptoms.
Time to have a hearing exam
So how can you tell which of these categories pertains to your hearing loss scenario? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can self-diagnose with much accuracy. It will be hard for you to determine, for instance, whether your cochlea is working correctly.
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 help you identify what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with by connecting you to a wide variety of modern technology.
So the best way to figure out what’s happening is to schedule an appointment with us today!