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? It’s kind of a bummer, right? The reality is that there’s virtually nothing in the world that is truly a “one size fits all”. That’s not only true with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions such as hearing loss. This can be accurate for many reasons.
So what causes hearing loss? And what is the most prevalent type of hearing loss? Well, that’s precisely what we intend to explore.
Hearing loss comes in different forms
Because hearing is such a complex cognitive and physical process, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Perhaps you hear perfectly well at the office, but not in a crowded restaurant. Or maybe you only have problems with high-pitched voices or low-pitched sounds. There are numerous forms that your hearing loss can take.
How your hearing loss presents, in part, might be determined by what’s causing your symptoms in the first place. Any number of things can go wrong with an organ as intricate as the ear.
How your hearing works
Before you can totally understand how hearing loss works, or what level of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid, it’s helpful to consider how things are supposed to function, how your ear is generally supposed to work. Here’s how it breaks down:
- Outer ear: This is the portion of the ear that you can see. It’s the initial sound receiver. The shape of your ear helps funnel those sounds into your middle ear (where they are further processed).
- Middle ear: The middle ear comprises your eardrum and a few 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 converted into electrical signals. Your cochlea plays a part in this also. Our brain then receives these electrical signals.
- Auditory nerve: This nerve directs these electrical signals to the brain.
- Auditory system: All of the elements listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are elements of your “auditory system”. It’s important to recognize that all of these elements are continually working together and in unison with each other. 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) multiple types of hearing loss. The underlying 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: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, usually the middle or outer ear, this type of hearing loss occurs. Normally, this blockage is caused by fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for example, this typically occurs). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. When the blockage is eliminated, hearing will normally go back to normal.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: When the fragile hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are normally destroyed. This form of hearing loss is usually chronic, progressive, and irreversible. Because of this, people are normally encouraged to avoid this type of hearing loss by using ear protection. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, it can be effectively treated with hearing aids.
- Mixed hearing loss: It occasionally happens that a person will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss simultaneously. This can sometimes be hard 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 properly transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. ANSD can usually be managed with a device called a cochlear implant.
Each form of hearing loss calls for a different treatment strategy, but the desired results are usually the same: to improve or preserve your ability to hear.
Hearing loss kinds have variations
And there’s more. We can break down and categorize these common forms of hearing loss even more specifically. For instance, hearing loss can also be classified as:
- Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
- 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 known as stable.
- Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually gets worse over time. Hearing loss that appears or shows up instantly is known as “sudden”.
- High frequency vs. low frequency: You may have more difficulty hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be categorized as one or the other.
- Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s called pre-lingual. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to speak, it’s known as post-lingual. This will impact the way hearing loss is managed.
- Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This indicates whether your hearing loss is the same in both ears or unequal in both ears.
- Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss due to outside causes, such as damage, it’s known as “acquired”.
- Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
That may seem like a lot, and it is. But your hearing loss will be more successfully managed when we’re able to use these categories.
Time to have a hearing exam
So how do you know what type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you have? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, regrettably, something that’s at all accurate. It will be hard for you to know, for instance, whether your cochlea is functioning 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 bring it to a skilled auto technician. We can help you figure out what type of hearing loss you have by connecting you to a wide range of modern technology.
So call us as soon as you can and make an appointment to find out what’s going on.