Shot of a senior man drinking coffee and looking thoughtfully out of a window wondering about hearing loss.

Have you ever purchased one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be disappointed (and surprised) when the shirt does not, in fact, fit as advertised? That’s truly aggravating. The fact is that there’s almost 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’s the cause of hearing loss? And what’s the most prevalent kind of hearing loss? Well, that’s exactly what we intend to explore.

Hearing loss comes in different forms

Everyone’s hearing loss situation will be as unique as they are. Maybe you hear just fine at the office, but not in a crowded restaurant. Or, perhaps specific 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 dictate how it manifests. 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 completely understand how hearing loss works, or what level of hearing loss requires a hearing aid, it’s practical to think a bit about how things are supposed to work, how your ear is typically supposed to work. Check out this breakdown:

  • Outer ear: This is the portion of the ear that’s visible. It’s where you’re first exposed to a “sound”. Sounds are efficiently 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: Your stereocilia are found hear. These fragile hairs pick up on vibrations and start translating those vibrations into electrical energy. Your cochlea plays a role in this also. Our brain then receives this electrical energy.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve is inside of your ear, and it’s responsible for channeling and sending this electrical energy to your brain.
  • Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” includes all of the elements discussed above. It’s essential to understand that all of these elements are constantly working together and in unison with each other. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any problem in one area will usually affect the performance of the entire system.

Hearing loss varieties

There are numerous types of hearing loss because there are multiple parts of the ear. The root cause of your hearing loss will determine which kind of hearing loss you develop.

Here are some of the most common causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This type of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often in the outer or middle ear. Usually, this blockage is due to fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this usually happens). In some cases, conductive hearing loss can be caused by a growth in the ear canal. Normally, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will return to normal when the obstruction is gone.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the fragile hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are normally destroyed. Normally, this is a chronic, progressive and irreversible type of hearing loss. Because of this, people are normally encouraged to avoid this kind of hearing loss by wearing hearing protection. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, it can be effectively treated with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to have a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. This can sometimes be hard to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s relatively rare for somebody to develop ANSD. It takes place when the cochlea doesn’t effectively transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. A device known as a cochlear implant is usually used to treat this type of hearing loss.

The desired results are the same even though the treatment solution will vary for each type of hearing loss: to improve or maintain your ability to hear.

Hearing loss types have variations

And that isn’t all! Any of these common types of hearing loss can be categorized further (and more specifically). Here are a few examples:

  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops due to outside forces (like damage).
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s known as pre-lingual. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to speak, it’s called post-lingual. This can have implications for treatment and adaptation.
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that gradually worsens over time is called “progressive”. If your hearing loss happens all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This tells you whether your hearing loss is the same in both ears or unequal in both ears.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You may experience more trouble hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be classified as one or the other.
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss refers to hearing loss that appears and disappears. If your hearing loss stays at approximately the same levels, it’s called stable.

If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. But your hearing loss will be more successfully treated when we’re able to use these categories.

Time to have a hearing test

So how do you know which 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 know, for instance, whether your cochlea is working correctly.

But that’s what hearing tests are for! It’s like when you have a check engine light on in your car and you take it to a qualified auto technician. We can hook you up to a wide variety of machines, and help identify what type of hearing loss you have.

So contact us as soon as you can and make an appointment to figure out what’s happening.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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