Have you ever bought one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be dismayed (and shocked) when the shirt doesn’t, in fact, fit as advertised? That’s really frustrating. There aren’t really 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 numerous reasons.
So what causes hearing loss? And what’s the most common type of hearing loss? Let’s find out!
Hearing loss comes in different kinds
Everybody’s hearing loss scenario will be as unique as they are. Perhaps when you’re in a noisy restaurant you can’t hear very well, but at work, you hear fine. Or perhaps you only have difficulty with high-pitched voices or low-pitched sounds. There are a wide variety of forms that your hearing loss can take.
The root cause of your hearing loss will dictate how it manifests. Because your ear is a rather complex little organ, there are any number of things that can go wrong.
How does hearing work?
It’s useful to get an idea 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 part of the ear that you can see. It’s where you are first 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 middle ear consists of your eardrum and several 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 tiny hairs detect vibrations and begin converting those vibrations into electrical energy. Your cochlea helps here, also. Our brain then receives this electrical energy.
- Auditory nerve: This nerve is located in your ear, and it’s responsible for transmitting and directing this electrical energy to your brain.
- Auditory system: All of the components listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are elements of your “auditory system”. It’s essential to understand that all of these elements are constantly working together and in concert with one another. Typically, in other words, the whole system will be impacted if any one part has problems.
Varieties of hearing loss
Because there are numerous parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) numerous types of hearing loss. Which type you develop will depend on the root cause.
The prevalent types of hearing loss include:
- Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, usually the middle or outer ear, this type of hearing loss happens. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the reason for this blockage (this typically happens, for example, when you have an ear infection). In some cases, conductive hearing loss can be the result of a growth in the ear canal. Typically, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will go back to normal once the obstruction has been removed.
- 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 permanent. Typically, people are encouraged to wear hearing protection to avoid this type of hearing loss. If you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be managed by devices like hearing aids.
- Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to experience 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 rather rare condition. It happens when the cochlea doesn’t effectively transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. ANSD can normally be treated with a device called a cochlear implant.
The desired results are the same even though the treatment solution will vary for each type of hearing loss: improving your hearing ability.
Variations on hearing loss kinds
And that isn’t all! We can break down and categorize these common forms of hearing loss even more specifically. Here are some examples:
- Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This indicates whether your hearing loss is equal in both ears or unequal in both ears.
- Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it slowly gets worse over time. Hearing loss that appears or presents immediately is known as “sudden”.
- Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to appear and disappear, it may be referred to as fluctuating. Stable hearing loss stays at about the same level.
- 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 will affect the way hearing loss is addressed.
- Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either experiencing hearing loss in just one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
- Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops due to outside forces (like damage).
- Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
- 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.
That might seem like a lot, and it is. The point is that each categorization helps us more accurately and effectively manage your symptoms.
Time to have a hearing exam
So how can you tell which type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you’re experiencing? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can accurately diagnose by yourself. As an example, is your cochlea functioning properly, how would you know?
But you can get a hearing test to find out precisely what’s going on. It’s like when you have a check engine light on in your car and you bring it to a skilled auto technician. We can hook you up to a wide variety of machines, and help identify what type of hearing loss you have.
So the best way to figure out what’s happening is to schedule an appointment with us as soon as you can!