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

Have you ever bought one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be dismayed (and surprised) when the shirt does not, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s kind of a bummer, isn’t it? The truth 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. There can be numerous reasons why it happens.

So what causes hearing loss? And what’s the most prevalent kind of hearing loss? Let’s see what we can find out!

Hearing loss comes in different forms

Because hearing is such a complex cognitive and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be exactly the same. Perhaps when you’re in a noisy restaurant you can’t hear that well, but when you’re at work, you hear fine. Or maybe you only have trouble with high-pitched voices 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, may be dictated by what causes your symptoms in the first place. Because your ear is a fairly complex little organ, there are any number of things that can go wrong.

How your hearing works

It’s useful to get an idea of how hearing is supposed to work before we can determine what degree of hearing loss requires a hearing aid. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Outer ear: This is the visible portion of the ear. It’s where you’re first exposed to a “sound”. The shape of your ear helps direct those sounds into your middle ear (where they are processed further).
  • Middle ear: The middle ear consists of 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 tiny hairs pick up on vibrations and begin translating those vibrations into electrical energy. 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: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” encompasses all of the parts discussed above. It’s essential to understand that all of these parts are continually working together and in concert with each other. In other words, the system is interconnected, so any problem in one area will typically impact the performance of the entire system.

Varieties of hearing loss

There are multiple 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 experience.

Here are some of the most common causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This type of hearing loss occurs because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, frequently in the middle or outer ear. Normally, this blockage is caused by fluid or inflammation (this usually happens, for example, when you have an ear infection). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. Normally, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will go back to normal as soon as the blockage is gone.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud noise, the tiny hair cells which pick up sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. This form of hearing loss is generally chronic, progressive, and irreversible. Because of this, people are normally encouraged to prevent this kind of hearing loss by wearing hearing protection. If you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be managed by devices such as 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: ANSD is a relatively rare condition. When sound isn’t properly 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.

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

Hearing loss kinds have variations

And that isn’t all! We can analyze and categorize these common types of hearing loss even more specifically. For example, hearing loss can also be classified as:

  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: If your hearing loss is the same in both ears it’s symmetrical and if it isn’t the same in both ears it’s asymmetrical.
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss refers to hearing loss that comes and goes. Stable hearing loss remains at about the same level.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either going through hearing loss in just one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that happens as a consequence of outside forces (like damage).
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s called pre-lingual. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to talk. This can have ramifications for treatment and adaptation.
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it slowly gets worse over time. If your hearing loss happens all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
  • 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.

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

A hearing test is in order

So how can you tell which of these categories applies to your hearing loss scenario? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, unfortunately, something that is at all accurate. It will be hard for you to know, for instance, whether your cochlea is working 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 range of machines, and help establish what type of hearing loss you have.

So the best way to determine what’s going on is to make an appointment with us today!

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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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