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? It’s sort of a bummer, right? There aren’t really very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. That’s a fact with t-shirts and it’s also relevant with medical conditions, like hearing loss. There can be numerous reasons why it happens.
So what causes hearing loss? And what’s the most common type of hearing loss? Well, that’s exactly what we intend to find out.
There are different kinds of hearing loss
Because hearing is such a complex mental and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be exactly the same. Perhaps you hear just fine at the office, but not in a noisy restaurant. Or, maybe certain frequencies of sound get lost. Your hearing loss can take a variety of shapes.
The root cause of your hearing loss will determine how it manifests. Any number of things can go wrong with an organ as intricate as the ear.
How your hearing works
It’s helpful to get an understanding of how hearing is supposed to work before we can understand what level of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid. Here’s how it breaks down:
- Outer ear: This is the part 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 processed further).
- Middle ear: The middle ear is composed 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 detect vibrations and begin translating those vibrations into electrical signals. Your cochlea plays a role in this also. Our brain then receives this electrical energy.
- Auditory nerve: This nerve is located in your ear, and it’s responsible for transmitting and sending this electrical energy towards your brain.
- Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” includes all of the elements discussed above. The overall hearing process depends on all of these elements working in unison with each other. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any issue in one area will typically impact the performance of the entire system.
Hearing loss varieties
Because there are numerous parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) numerous forms of hearing loss. The underlying 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 form of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often in the middle or outer ear. 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. Once the blockage is removed, hearing will normally go back to normal.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud noise, the tiny hair cells which detect sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. Normally, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent type of hearing loss. Because of this, individuals are usually encouraged to avoid this type of hearing loss by wearing ear protection. If you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be managed by devices like hearing aids.
- Mixed hearing loss: It occasionally happens that someone will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss simultaneously. This can often be challenging to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
- Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s relatively rare for someone to develop ANSD. It occurs when the cochlea doesn’t effectively transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. A device called a cochlear implant is usually used to manage this kind 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 preserve your ability to hear.
Hearing loss types have variations
And there’s more. Any of these normal kinds of hearing loss can be further categorized (and more specifically). For example, hearing loss can also be classified as:
- Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is known as pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to talk. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to talk. This can have implications for treatment and adaptation.
- Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops due to outside causes (such as damage).
- Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This indicates whether your hearing loss is the same in both ears or unequal in both ears.
- Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss refers to hearing loss that appears and disappears. If your hearing loss stays at around the same levels, it’s known as stable.
- Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
- Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually gets worse over time. Hearing loss that erupts or presents immediately is called “sudden”.
- 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: Your hearing loss can be categorized as one or the other depending on what frequency range is getting lost.
If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. The point is that each classification helps us more precisely and effectively treat your symptoms.
Time to get a hearing test
So how can you tell which type, and what sub-type, of hearing loss you have? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can accurately diagnose by yourself. It will be hard for you to know, for example, whether your cochlea is working properly.
But that’s what hearing exams are for! Your loss of hearing is kind of like a “check engine” light. We can hook you up to a wide range of machines, and help identify what type of hearing loss you have.
So give us a call as soon as you can and make an appointment to figure out what’s happening.