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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 promoted 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? That’s really annoying. There aren’t actually 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 like hearing loss. There can be many reasons why it happens.

So what are the most prevalent types of hearing loss and what are their causes? Let’s find out!

There are different types of hearing loss

Because hearing is such a complex mental and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be exactly the same. Perhaps when you’re in a noisy restaurant you can’t hear that well, but when you’re at work, you hear just fine. Or maybe you only have difficulty with high-pitched voices or low-pitched sounds. There are numerous forms that your hearing loss can take.

How your hearing loss presents, in part, might be dictated by what causes your symptoms in the first place. Lots 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 figure out what level of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Outer ear: This is the portion of the ear that you can see. It’s the initial sound receiver. Sounds are effectively funneled into your middle ear for further processing due to the shape of your outer ear.
  • 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. Vibration is picked up by these fragile hairs which are then transformed into electrical signals. Your cochlea helps here, too. These electrical signals are then sent to your brain.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve directs 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 recognize that all of these parts are constantly working together and in unison with one another. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any issue in one area will typically affect the performance of the entire system.

Varieties of hearing loss

Because there are multiple parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) numerous forms of hearing loss. The root cause of your hearing loss will determine which type of hearing loss you experience.

Here are some of the most prevalent 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. Usually, this blockage is due to fluid or inflammation (this usually happens, for instance, when you have an ear infection). In some cases, conductive hearing loss can be the result of a growth in the ear canal. Normally, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will return to normal when the blockage has been removed.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the delicate hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are usually destroyed. Usually, this is a chronic, progressive and irreversible type of hearing loss. Typically, people are encouraged to wear hearing protection to prevent this type of hearing loss. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, it can be effectively managed with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It sometimes happens that somebody will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss at the same time. Because the hearing loss is coming from numerous different places, this can sometimes be difficult to treat.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a relatively rare condition. When sound is not properly transmitted from your ear to your brain, this kind of hearing loss occurs. A device known as a cochlear implant is usually used to treat this kind of hearing loss.

Each form of hearing loss calls for a different treatment strategy, but the desired results are often the same: to improve or maintain your ability to hear.

Hearing loss types have variations

And there’s more. We can break down and categorize these common types of hearing loss even more specifically. Here are a few examples:

  • 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.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that gradually worsens over time is called “progressive”. If your hearing loss happens all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you develop hearing loss due to external causes, like damage, it’s known as “acquired”.
  • 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.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s known as pre-lingual. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to talk. This will affect the way hearing loss is treated.
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss refers to hearing loss that appears and disappears. If your hearing loss stays at roughly the same levels, it’s called stable.

If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. The point is that each classification helps us more accurately and effectively address your symptoms.

Time to have a hearing test

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 working correctly, how would you know?

But you can get a hearing exam to determine exactly what’s going on. Your loss of hearing is sort of like a “check engine” light. We can help you determine what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with by hooking you up to a wide variety of modern technology.

So the best way to figure out what’s going on 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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