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

Have you ever bought one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be disappointed (and surprised) when the shirt doesn’t, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s sort of a bummer, isn’t it? The truth is that there’s pretty much 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 is the most common type of hearing loss? Let’s see what we can find out!

There are different kinds of hearing loss

Because hearing is such an intricate cognitive and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Perhaps when you’re in a crowded restaurant you can’t hear very well, but 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 root cause of your hearing loss will determine how it manifests. Lots of things can go wrong with an organ as intricate as the ear.

How does hearing work?

Before you can totally understand how hearing loss works, or what degree of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid, it’s helpful to consider how things are supposed to function, how your ear is typically supposed to work. Check out this breakdown:

  • Outer ear: This is the visible part of the ear. It’s the initial sound receiver. 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. Vibration is detected by these little hairs which are then transformed into electrical signals. Your cochlea plays a role in this also. Our brain then receives this electrical energy.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve directs these electrical signals to the brain.
  • Auditory system: All of the parts listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are elements of your “auditory system”. It’s important to recognize that all of these parts are constantly working together and in unison with each other. Usually, in other words, the entire system will be impacted if any one part has problems.

Types of hearing loss

Because there are numerous parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) numerous types of hearing loss. Which type you experience will depend on the root cause.

Here are some of the most common causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This form of hearing loss occurs because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often in the outer or middle ear. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (when you have an ear infection, for example, this usually happens). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. Normally, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will return to normal once the blockage has been removed.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the delicate hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are usually destroyed. This form of hearing loss is generally chronic, progressive, and irreversible. Typically, individuals are encouraged to use ear protection to prevent this kind of hearing loss. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated by devices like hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to experience a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. This can sometimes be difficult to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a rather rare condition. It occurs when the cochlea does not properly transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. ANSD can usually 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: improving your hearing ability.

Variations on hearing loss types

And that’s not all! We can analyze and categorize these common forms of hearing loss even more specifically. For instance, hearing loss can also be classified as:

  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s called “congenital”.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either experiencing hearing loss in just one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • 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: Hearing loss is called pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to talk. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to talk, it’s known as post-lingual. This will affect the way hearing loss is treated.
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it slowly worsens over time. If your hearing loss happens all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss describes hearing loss that comes and goes. If your hearing loss remains at approximately the same levels, it’s called stable.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You may experience more trouble hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be classified as one or the other.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops as a result of outside causes (like damage).

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.

Time to have a hearing exam

So how can you tell which type, and what sub-type, of hearing loss you’re experiencing? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can self-diagnose with much accuracy. It will be hard for you to determine, for example, whether your cochlea is working properly.

But that’s what hearing tests are for! Your loss of hearing is sort of like a “check engine” light. We can hook you up to a wide range of machines, and help establish what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with.

So the best way to understand what’s going on is to schedule an appointment with us today!

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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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