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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 seen a t-shirt advertised as “one size fits all” but when you went to try it on, you were disheartened to find that it didn’t fit at all? It’s sort of a bummer, isn’t it? The fact is that there’s virtually nothing in the world that is really a “one size fits all”. That’s not only relevant with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions such as hearing loss. This can be accurate for many reasons.

So what causes hearing loss? And what is the most common type of hearing loss? Well, that’s precisely what we intend to explore.

There are different forms of hearing loss

Because hearing is such an intricate mental 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 when you’re at work, you hear just fine. Or, perhaps specific frequencies of sound get lost. Your loss of hearing can take a wide range of forms.

How your hearing loss presents, in part, may be determined by what’s causing your symptoms to begin with. Lots of things can go wrong with an organ as complex as the ear.

How does hearing work?

Before you can totally understand how hearing loss works, or what level of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid, it’s helpful to consider how things are supposed to work, how your ear is typically supposed to work. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Outer ear: This is the part of the ear that you can see. It’s where you are initially exposed to a “sound”. Sounds are efficiently guided into your middle ear for further processing by the shape of your outer ear.
  • Middle ear: The eardrum and a few tiny bones are what your middle ear is composed of (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
  • Inner ear: This is where your stereocilia are found. Vibration is picked up by these delicate hairs which are then converted into electrical energy. Your cochlea helps here, also. Our brain then receives this electrical energy.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve directs these electrical signals to the brain.
  • Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” encompasses all of the elements discussed above. The total hearing process depends on all of these components working in unison with each other. Typically, in other words, the whole system will be impacted if any one part has issues.

Hearing loss types

There are numerous types of hearing loss because there are multiple parts of the ear. Which type you experience will depend on the underlying cause.

Here are some of the most common causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often the middle or outer ear, this type of hearing loss happens. Usually, this blockage is caused by fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this usually happens). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. Normally, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will go back to normal once the obstruction has been removed.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud noise, the delicate hair cells which detect sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. This form of hearing loss is generally chronic, progressive, and permanent. As a result, individuals are normally encouraged to avoid this type of hearing loss by using hearing protection. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated by devices like hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to have a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. This can often be hard to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s fairly rare for somebody to develop ANSD. It takes place 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 vary for each type of hearing loss: to improve or preserve your ability to hear.

Hearing loss kinds have variations

And that’s not all! Any of these normal kinds of hearing loss can be further categorized (and with more specificity). Here are a few examples:

  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to come and go, it may be referred to as fluctuating. Stable hearing loss remains at relatively the same level.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s called “congenital”.
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you develop hearing loss because of external causes, such as damage, it’s called “acquired”.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You may have more trouble hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be categorized as one or the other.
  • 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.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s known as pre-lingual. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to speak, it’s known as post-lingual. This will impact the way hearing loss is managed.
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually worsens over time. Hearing loss that appears or presents instantly is known as “sudden”.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to experience hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).

If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. The point is that each categorization helps us more precisely and effectively treat your symptoms.

A hearing exam is in order

So how can you tell what type, and which 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 know, for instance, whether your cochlea is working properly.

But that’s what hearing examinations 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 connect you to a wide range of machines, and help establish what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with.

So the best way to figure out what’s happening is to schedule 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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