Have you ever seen a t-shirt promoted as “one size fits all” but when you went to try it on, you were discouraged to find that it didn’t fit at all? That’s really frustrating. There aren’t actually very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. That’s true with t-shirts and it’s also relevant with medical conditions, like hearing loss. There can be numerous reasons why it occurs.
So what’s the cause of hearing loss? And what is the most prevalent kind of hearing loss? Well, that’s exactly what we intend to find out.
There are different types of hearing loss
Because hearing is such a complex mental and physical process, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Maybe you hear just fine at the office, but not in a noisy restaurant. Or perhaps you only have difficulty with high or low-pitched sounds. There are numerous forms that your hearing loss can take.
The root cause of your hearing loss will dictate how it manifests. Any number of things can go wrong with an organ as complex as the ear.
How does hearing work?
Before you can thoroughly understand how hearing loss works, or what level of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid, it’s practical to think a bit about how things are supposed to function, how your ear is usually supposed to work. Check out this breakdown:
- Outer ear: This is the portion of the ear that you can see. 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 fragile hairs which are then transformed into electrical energy. Your cochlea plays a role in this also. Our brain then receives this electrical energy.
- Auditory nerve: This nerve sends these electrical signals to the brain.
- Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” includes all of the elements discussed above. It’s important to understand that all of these components are constantly working together and in unison with one another. Typically, in other words, the entire system will be impacted if any one part has problems.
Hearing loss varieties
Because there are multiple parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) multiple types of hearing loss. The underlying cause of your hearing loss will determine which kind of hearing loss you experience.
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 occurs. Typically, this blockage is a consequence of 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. When the obstruction is eliminated, hearing will normally go back to normal.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud noise, the delicate hair cells which pick up sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. Normally, 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 several different places, this can sometimes be challenging to manage.
- Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s fairly rare for someone to develop ANSD. It occurs when the cochlea does not effectively transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. A device called a cochlear implant is normally used to manage this kind of hearing loss.
Each type of hearing loss calls for a different treatment strategy, but the desired results are usually the same: improving your hearing ability.
Hearing loss kinds have variations
And that’s not all! Any of these normal types of hearing loss can be further categorized (and more specifically). Here are some examples:
- Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually gets worse over time. If your hearing loss arises all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
- Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s called “congenital”.
- Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s called pre-lingual. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to talk. This can have ramifications for treatment and adaptation.
- 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.
- High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be classified as one or the other depending on which frequency range is getting lost.
- Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss due to outside forces, like damage, it’s called “acquired”.
- Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss describes hearing loss that appears and disappears. If your hearing loss remains at around the same levels, it’s called stable.
- 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 accurately and effectively address your symptoms.
Time to get a hearing exam
So how can you tell which of these categories pertains to your hearing loss scenario? 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 exams 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 hook you up to a wide range of machines, and help determine what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with.
So call us today and schedule an appointment to figure out what’s going on.
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