Have you ever seen a t-shirt promoted 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 fact is that there’s almost 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 like hearing loss. There can be many reasons why it happens.
So what’s the cause of hearing loss? And what’s the most common type of hearing loss? Let’s find out!
There are different types of hearing loss
Because hearing is such an intricate cognitive and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be exactly the same. Maybe when you’re in a crowded restaurant you can’t hear that well, but when you’re at work, you hear just fine. Or, maybe specific frequencies of sound get lost. There are a wide variety of forms that your hearing loss can take.
How your hearing loss shows up, in part, may be determined by what’s causing your symptoms in the first place. Lots of things can go wrong with an organ as intricate as the ear.
How does hearing work?
It’s useful to get an idea of how hearing is supposed to work before we can figure out what level of hearing loss requires a hearing aid. Here’s how it breaks down:
- Outer ear: This is the portion 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 processed further).
- Middle ear: The eardrum and a few tiny bones are what your middle ear is composed of (yes, you have bones in your ear, but they are admittedly very, very tiny).
- Inner ear: This is where your stereocilia are found. These fragile hairs detect vibrations and begin converting those vibrations into electrical signals. Your cochlea helps here, too. This electrical energy is then sent to your brain.
- Auditory nerve: This nerve is inside of your ear, and it’s responsible for channeling and directing this electrical energy towards your brain.
- Auditory system: All of the components listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are components of your “auditory system”. The overall hearing process depends on all of these parts working in concert with each other. In other words, the system is interconnected, so any problem in one area will usually 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 types of hearing loss. The root cause of your hearing loss will determine which type of hearing loss you develop.
The common types of hearing loss include:
- Conductive hearing loss: This type of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often in the outer or middle ear. Normally, this blockage is caused by fluid or inflammation (this usually happens, for instance, when you have an ear infection). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. Usually, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will go back to normal once the blockage is gone.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: When the tiny hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are usually destroyed. This type of hearing loss is usually chronic, progressive, and permanent. Typically, people are encouraged to wear ear protection to avoid this type of hearing loss. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated by devices such as 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 challenging to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
- Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a relatively rare condition. It occurs when the cochlea doesn’t effectively transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. A device known as a cochlear implant is usually used to treat this kind of hearing loss.
The desired results are the same even though the treatment solution will differ for each form of hearing loss: improving your hearing ability.
Hearing loss types have variations
And that’s not all! We can break down and categorize these common types of hearing loss even more specifically. For example, hearing loss can also be classified as:
- Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss describes hearing loss that comes and goes. If your hearing loss stays at roughly the same levels, it’s called stable.
- Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
- High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be categorized as one or the other depending on what frequency range is getting lost.
- Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it slowly worsens over time. If your hearing loss happens all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
- Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to talk, it’s called pre-lingual. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to talk. This will impact the way hearing loss is addressed.
- 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.
- Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to experience hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
- Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that happens due to outside causes (like damage).
That might seem like a lot, and it is. But your hearing loss will be more effectively treated when we’re able to use these classifications.
A hearing exam is in order
So how do you know 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 working properly, how would you know?
But that’s what hearing exams are for! It’s like when you have a check engine light on in your car and you take it to a skilled auto technician. We can help you figure out what type of hearing loss you have by hooking you up to a wide variety of modern technology.
So the best way to figure out what’s going on is to make an appointment with us as soon as you can!
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