Have you ever purchased one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be disappointed (and shocked) when the shirt does not, in fact, fit as advertised? That’s truly aggravating. There aren’t really very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. That’s not only true with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions such as hearing loss. This can be accurate for numerous reasons.
So what are the most prevalent kinds of hearing loss and what causes them? Well, that’s exactly what we intend to find out.
Hearing loss comes in different types
Everybody’s hearing loss situation will be as individual as they are. Perhaps you hear just fine at the office, but not in a crowded restaurant. Or maybe you only have difficulty with high or low-pitched sounds. There are numerous forms that your hearing loss can take.
How your hearing loss shows up, in part, might be dictated by what causes your symptoms in the first place. Because your ear is a rather complex little organ, there are any number of things that can go wrong.
How your hearing works
Before you can completely understand how hearing loss works, or what level of hearing loss requires a hearing aid, it’s helpful to consider how things are supposed to work, how your ear is typically supposed to work. Check out this breakdown:
- Outer ear: This is the part of the ear that you can see. It’s where you are first exposed to a “sound”. Sounds are efficiently guided into your middle ear for further processing due to the shape of your outer ear.
- Middle ear: The eardrum and several 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 pick up on vibrations and begin converting those vibrations into electrical signals. Your cochlea plays a role in this also. These electrical signals are 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 towards your brain.
- Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” encompasses all of the parts discussed above. It’s important to recognize that all of these components are constantly working together and in concert with each other. In other words, the system is interconnected, so any problem in one area will typically affect the performance of the whole system.
Varieties of hearing loss
Because there are multiple parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) numerous types of hearing loss. The underlying 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 kind of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, frequently in the outer or middle ear. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the reason for this blockage (this typically happens, for instance, when you have an ear infection). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. Once the obstruction is removed, hearing will normally return to normal.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud sound, the delicate hair cells which detect sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. This type of hearing loss is usually chronic, progressive, and irreversible. Typically, people are encouraged to use ear protection to avoid this type of hearing loss. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be managed by devices like hearing aids.
- Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to have a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. Because the hearing loss is coming from numerous different places, this can sometimes be challenging to treat.
- Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a rather rare condition. It happens when the cochlea does not properly transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. ANSD can normally be treated with a device called a cochlear implant.
Each type of hearing loss requires a different treatment approach, but the desired results are often the same: to improve or preserve your ability to hear.
Variations on hearing loss types
And there’s more. Any of these normal kinds of hearing loss can be categorized further (and with more specificity). For instance, hearing loss can also be classified as:
- Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either going through hearing loss in just one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
- 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 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 slowly gets worse over time. Hearing loss that erupts or shows up immediately is called “sudden”.
- 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 ramifications for treatment and adaptation.
- Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
- Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops due to outside causes (like damage).
- High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be categorized as one or the other depending on what frequency range is getting lost.
That might seem like a lot, and it is. But your hearing loss will be more effectively managed when we’re able to use these classifications.
A hearing exam is in order
So how can you tell what 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. For instance, is your cochlea functioning correctly, 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 qualified auto technician. We can help you identify what type of hearing loss you have by connecting you to a wide range of modern technology.
So call us today and schedule an appointment to figure out what’s going on.