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

Have you ever purchased one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be dismayed (and shocked) when the shirt does not, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s sort of a bummer, right? The truth is that there’s almost nothing in the world that is really a “one size fits all”. That’s true with t-shirts and it’s also relevant with medical conditions, like hearing loss. There can be a wide variety of reasons why it occurs.

So what are the most common kinds of hearing loss and what causes them? Let’s see what we can find out!

There are different kinds of hearing loss

Because hearing is such a complex cognitive and physical process, 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 when you’re at work, you hear just fine. Or, maybe certain frequencies of sound get lost. There are a wide variety of forms that your hearing loss can take.

The underlying cause of your hearing loss will dictate how it manifests. Because your ear is a fairly complex little organ, there are lots of things that can go wrong.

How your hearing works

It’s useful to get an understanding 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 part of the ear. It’s the initial sound receiver. The shape of your ear helps funnel those sounds into your middle ear (where they are further processed).
  • Middle ear: The eardrum and some 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: Your stereocilia are found hear. These tiny hairs detect vibrations and start translating those vibrations into electrical signals. Your cochlea plays a role in this too. Our brain then receives this electrical energy.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve sends these electrical signals to the brain.
  • Auditory system: All of the elements listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are components of your “auditory system”. It’s important to understand that all of these parts are constantly working together and in concert with each other. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any problem in one area will usually impact the performance of the whole system.

Types of hearing loss

There are multiple types of hearing loss because there are multiple parts of the ear. The underlying cause of your hearing loss will determine which kind of hearing loss you develop.

Here are some of the most common causes:

  • 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. Typically, this blockage is a consequence of fluid or inflammation (this usually happens, for example, when you have an ear infection). Sometimes, conductive hearing loss can be the result of a growth in the ear canal. Typically, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will return to normal as soon as the obstruction has been removed.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the tiny hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are usually destroyed. Usually, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent form of hearing loss. Usually, individuals are encouraged to wear ear protection to avoid this kind of hearing loss. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, it can be successfully treated with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It occasionally happens that someone will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss at the same time. This can often be challenging to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a rather rare condition. It happens when the cochlea does not effectively transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. ANSD can normally be treated with a device known as a cochlear implant.

Each type of hearing loss requires a different treatment method, but the desired results are often the same: improving your hearing ability.

Hearing loss types have variations

And there’s more. We can analyze and categorize these common forms of hearing loss even more specifically. For example, hearing loss can also be classified as:

  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that slowly worsens over time is called “progressive”. Hearing loss that erupts or shows up immediately is known as “sudden”.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is called pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to talk. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to speak, it’s known as post-lingual. This can have ramifications for treatment and adaptation.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This tells you whether your hearing loss is the same in both ears or unequal in both ears.
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss as a result of outside forces, like damage, it’s called “acquired”.
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • 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 called stable.
  • 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 may 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 can you tell what type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you have? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, unfortunately, something that’s at all accurate. For instance, is your cochlea functioning correctly, how would you know?

But that’s what hearing tests are for! It’s like when you have a check engine light on in your car and you bring it to a qualified auto technician. We can hook you up to a wide variety of machines, and help identify what type of hearing loss you have.

So the best way to determine what’s happening is to make an appointment with us as soon as you can!

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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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