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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 dismayed (and shocked) when the shirt does not, in fact, fit as advertised? That’s truly aggravating. The truth is that there’s almost 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 like hearing loss. There can be many reasons why it occurs.

So what’s the cause of hearing loss? And what is the most common kind of hearing loss? Let’s find out!

There are different forms 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 crowded restaurant you can’t hear very well, but at work, you hear fine. Or, maybe certain frequencies of sound get lost. Your hearing loss can take a wide range of shapes.

How your hearing loss shows up, in part, may be determined by what’s causing your symptoms to begin with. Because your ear is a rather complex little organ, there are lots of things that can go wrong.

How your hearing works

Before you can thoroughly understand how hearing loss works, or what degree of hearing loss requires a hearing aid, it’s helpful to think a bit about 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 visible part of the ear. It’s where you’re first exposed to a “sound”. The shape of your ear helps funnel those sounds into your middle ear (where they are processed further).
  • Middle ear: The middle ear comprises your eardrum and several tiny ear bones (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 delicate hairs which are then transformed into electrical energy. Your cochlea plays a role in this also. This electrical energy is then carried to your brain.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve is inside of your ear, and it’s responsible for channeling and directing this electrical energy towards your brain.
  • Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” includes all of the parts discussed above. It’s essential to understand that all of these elements are continually working together and in concert with one another. Usually, in other words, the entire system will be impacted if any one part has issues.

Varieties of hearing loss

There are multiple forms of hearing loss because there are numerous parts of the ear. Which type you develop will depend on the root cause.

The prevalent types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This type of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often in the middle or outer ear. Normally, this blockage is caused by fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this typically occurs). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. When the blockage is removed, hearing will usually return to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud sound, the fragile hair cells which pick up sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. This type of hearing loss is usually chronic, progressive, and permanent. As a result, people are normally encouraged to prevent this kind of hearing loss by using hearing protection. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated by devices such as 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: It’s fairly rare for someone to develop ANSD. When sound isn’t effectively transmitted from your ear to your brain, this type of hearing loss occurs. A device known as a cochlear implant is normally used to manage this type of hearing loss.

The desired results are the same even though the treatment option will differ for each type of hearing loss: to improve or preserve your ability to hear.

Hearing loss types have variations

And that’s not all! We can analyze and categorize these common forms of hearing loss even more specifically. Here are some examples:

  • 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 implications for treatment and adaptation.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either experiencing hearing loss in only one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be categorized as one or the other depending on which frequency range is getting lost.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops due to outside forces (such as damage).
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it slowly gets worse over time. If your hearing loss happens all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
  • 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 describes hearing loss that appears and disappears. Stable hearing loss remains at relatively the same level.

If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. But your hearing loss will be more effectively managed when we’re able to use these categories.

A hearing test is in order

So how can you be sure which of these classifications pertains to your hearing loss scenario? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, unfortunately, something that is at all accurate. For instance, is your cochlea functioning properly, 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 bring it to a skilled auto technician. We can connect you to a wide variety of machines, and help determine what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with.

So call us as soon as you can and schedule an appointment to find out what’s happening.

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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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