Have you ever purchased one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be dismayed (and shocked) when the shirt does not, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s sort of a bummer, isn’t it? The fact is that there’s almost nothing in the world that is really a “one size fits all”. That’s not only true with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions like hearing loss. This can be true for numerous reasons.
So what causes hearing loss? And what’s the most common type of hearing loss? Well, that’s exactly what we intend to explore.
Hearing loss comes in different forms
Because hearing is such an intricate mental and physical process, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Perhaps when you’re in a crowded restaurant you can’t hear very well, but at work, you hear just fine. Or maybe you only have problems with high or low-pitched sounds. There are a wide variety of forms that your hearing loss can take.
How your hearing loss shows up, in part, could be determined by what’s causing your symptoms to begin with. Because your ear is a fairly 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 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 portion of the ear. It’s where you are initially exposed to a “sound”. The shape of your ear helps direct those sounds into your middle ear (where they are further processed).
- Middle ear: The eardrum and several tiny bones are what your middle ear is composed of (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
- Inner ear: Your stereocilia are found hear. Vibration is detected by these little hairs which are then transformed into electrical signals. Your cochlea plays a part in this also. Our brain then receives these electrical signals.
- Auditory nerve: This nerve sends these electrical signals to the brain.
- Auditory system: All of the parts listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are elements of your “auditory system”. It’s essential to understand that all of these components are continually working together and in concert with one another. Usually, in other words, the whole system will be impacted if any one part has issues.
Hearing loss varieties
Because there are multiple parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) multiple types of hearing loss. The root cause of your hearing loss will determine which kind of hearing loss you develop.
The common types of hearing loss include:
- Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often the middle or outer ear, this form of hearing loss happens. Usually, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (when you have an ear infection, for example, this typically happens). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. Usually, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will return to normal when the blockage is gone.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud sound, the tiny hair cells which detect sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. Normally, this is a chronic, progressive and irreversible type of hearing loss. Because of this, people are usually encouraged to avoid this kind of hearing loss by using hearing protection. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, it can be successfully 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 often be difficult to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
- Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a fairly rare condition. When sound is not effectively transmitted from your ear to your brain, this type of hearing loss occurs. ANSD can usually be treated with a device known as a cochlear implant.
Each type of hearing loss requires a different treatment strategy, but the desired results are usually the same: to improve or preserve your ability to hear.
Variations on hearing loss types
And there’s more. We can analyze and categorize these common forms of hearing loss even more specifically. For instance, hearing loss can also be classified as:
- Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to talk, it’s called pre-lingual. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to talk, it’s called post-lingual. This can have implications for treatment and adaptation.
- Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops as a consequence of outside forces (such as damage).
- Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually gets worse over time. Hearing loss that erupts or presents instantly is called “sudden”.
- Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss describes hearing loss that appears and disappears. If your hearing loss remains at around the same levels, it’s known as stable.
- High frequency vs. low frequency: You may experience more difficulty hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be classified as one or the other.
- Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
- Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
- Symmetrical or asymmetrical: If your hearing loss is the same in both ears it’s symmetrical and if it’s not the same in both ears it’s asymmetrical.
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 classifications.
A hearing test is in order
So how can you tell which of these classifications pertains to your hearing loss situation? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, regrettably, something that’s at all accurate. It will be difficult for you to determine, for instance, whether your cochlea is working properly.
But that’s what hearing tests are for! Your loss of hearing is sort of like a “check engine” light. We can help you determine what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with by hooking you up to a wide variety of modern technology.
So give us a call today and schedule an appointment to figure out what’s going on.