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, isn’t it? The fact is that there’s almost nothing in the world that is really a “one size fits all”. That’s a fact with t-shirts and it’s also relevant with medical conditions, like hearing loss. There can be a wide variety of reasons why it happens.
So what’s the cause of hearing loss? And what’s the most common kind of hearing loss? Let’s find out!
There are different kinds of hearing loss
Because hearing is such a complex cognitive and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Perhaps when you’re in a noisy restaurant you can’t hear very well, but at work, you hear just fine. Or, maybe certain frequencies of sound get lost. Your loss of hearing can take a wide range of shapes.
How your hearing loss shows up, in part, may be dictated by what causes your symptoms in the first place. Any number of things can go wrong with an organ as complex as the ear.
How your hearing works
It’s useful to get an idea of how hearing is supposed to work before we can understand what level 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 the initial sound receiver. Sounds are effectively guided into your middle ear for further processing by the shape of your outer ear.
- Middle ear: The middle ear comprises your eardrum and several tiny ear bones (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
- Inner ear: Your stereocilia are found hear. These tiny hairs detect vibrations and start translating those vibrations into electrical energy. Your cochlea helps here, too. This electrical energy is then carried to your brain.
- Auditory nerve: This nerve is inside of your ear, and it’s responsible for transmitting and directing this electrical energy to your brain.
- Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” includes all of the elements discussed above. The complete hearing process depends on all of these components working in unison with one another. In other words, the system is interconnected, so any issue in one area will usually impact the performance of the entire system.
Types of hearing loss
Because there are multiple parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) multiple types of hearing loss. Which form you experience will depend on the root cause.
Here are some of the most prevalent causes:
- Conductive hearing loss: This kind of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, frequently in the outer or middle ear. Normally, this blockage is a consequence of fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this usually happens). Sometimes, conductive hearing loss can be the result of a growth in the ear canal. When the blockage is removed, hearing will normally go back to normal.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: When the tiny hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are usually destroyed. Usually, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent form of hearing loss. Because of this, people are normally encouraged to avoid this type of hearing loss by wearing ear protection. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, it can be effectively managed with hearing aids.
- Mixed hearing loss: It occasionally happens that somebody will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss at the same time. This can sometimes be hard to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
- Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s relatively rare for someone to develop ANSD. When sound isn’t properly transmitted from your ear to your brain, this type of hearing loss happens. ANSD can normally be treated with a device called a cochlear implant.
Each form of hearing loss requires a different treatment method, but the desired results are often the same: improving your hearing ability.
Hearing loss kinds have variations
And there’s more. We can analyze and categorize these common types of hearing loss even more specifically. For instance, hearing loss can also be classified as:
- Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually gets worse over time. If your hearing loss happens all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
- Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
- Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This tells you whether your hearing loss is the same in both ears or unequal in both ears.
- Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to talk, it’s known as pre-lingual. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to talk. This can have implications for treatment and adaptation.
- Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss describes hearing loss that appears and disappears. Stable hearing loss stays at about the same level.
- High frequency vs. low frequency: You might have more difficulty hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be categorized as one or the other.
- Acquired hearing loss: If you develop hearing loss as a result of outside causes, such as damage, it’s called “acquired”.
- Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to experience hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
That may seem like a lot, and it is. But your hearing loss will be more effectively managed when we’re able to use these categories.
A hearing exam is in order
So how do you know which type, and what sub-type, of hearing loss you’re experiencing? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, regrettably, something that is at all accurate. It will be hard for you to determine, for instance, whether your cochlea is functioning properly.
But that’s what hearing exams are for! Your loss of hearing is sort of like a “check engine” light. We can hook you up to a wide variety of machines, and help determine what type of hearing loss you have.
So the best way to understand what’s going on is to make an appointment with us as soon as you can!