Have you ever seen a t-shirt advertised as “one size fits all” but when you went to put it on, you were discouraged to find that it didn’t fit at all? That’s really annoying. The fact is that there’s virtually nothing in the world that is truly a “one size fits all”. That’s true with t-shirts and it’s also true with medical conditions, like hearing loss. This can be accurate for numerous reasons.
So what are the most prevalent kinds of hearing loss and what causes them? Let’s see what we can find out!
There are different kinds of hearing loss
Everyone’s hearing loss scenario will be as individual as they are. Perhaps when you’re in a crowded restaurant you can’t hear very well, but at work, you hear fine. Or, perhaps certain frequencies of sound get lost. There are a wide variety of forms that your hearing loss can take.
The underlying cause of your hearing loss will determine how it manifests. Because your ear is a rather complex little organ, there are lots of things that can go wrong.
How does hearing work?
Before you can completely understand how hearing loss works, or what level of hearing loss requires a hearing aid, it’s practical 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 are first exposed to a “sound”. The shape of your ear helps funnel those sounds into your middle ear (where they are processed further).
- Middle ear: The middle ear consists of your eardrum and several tiny ear bones (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
- Inner ear: This is where your stereocilia are found. Vibration is picked up by these delicate hairs which are then transformed into electrical energy. Your cochlea plays a part in this too. These electrical signals are then sent to your brain.
- Auditory nerve: This nerve is located in your ear, and it’s responsible for transmitting and directing 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 complete hearing process depends on all of these elements working in unison with one another. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any problem in one area will typically impact the performance of the whole system.
Hearing loss types
There are multiple types of hearing loss because there are numerous parts of the ear. The underlying 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: This kind of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, frequently in the outer or middle ear. Normally, this blockage is due to fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for example, this typically happens). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. Once the obstruction 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. Usually, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent form of hearing loss. As a result, people are usually encouraged to prevent this kind of hearing loss by using ear protection. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, it can be successfully treated with hearing aids.
- Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to experience a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. Because the hearing loss is coming from numerous different places, this can sometimes be challenging to manage.
- Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a relatively rare condition. It takes place when the cochlea doesn’t properly transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. ANSD can usually be treated with a device known as a cochlear implant.
Each type of hearing loss requires a different treatment approach, but the desired results are usually the same: improving your hearing ability.
Hearing loss types have variations
And that isn’t all! Any of these common types of hearing loss can be further categorized (and with more specificity). Here are some examples:
- Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that slowly gets worse over time is called “progressive”. If your hearing loss happens all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
- High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be classified as one or the other depending on what frequency range is getting lost.
- Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
- Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is known as pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to talk. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to talk, it’s known as post-lingual. This will impact the way hearing loss is treated.
- Acquired hearing loss: If you develop hearing loss due to external forces, like damage, it’s called “acquired”.
- Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to experience hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
- Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This tells you whether your hearing loss is the same in both ears or unequal in both ears.
- Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss tends to appear and disappear, it might be referred to as fluctuating. If your hearing loss remains at roughly the same levels, it’s called stable.
That may seem like a lot, and it is. But your hearing loss will be more successfully treated when we’re able to use these classifications.
Time to have a hearing exam
So how do you know what type, and what sub-type, of hearing loss you’re experiencing? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can accurately diagnose by yourself. It will be hard for you to know, for example, whether your cochlea is functioning properly.
But that’s what hearing examinations are for! Your loss of hearing is kind of like a “check engine” light. We can connect you to a wide variety of machines, and help identify what type of hearing loss you have.
So call us today and make an appointment to figure out what’s happening.