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 put it on, you were discouraged to find that it didn’t fit at all? It’s kind of a bummer, right? The fact is that there’s pretty much nothing in the world that is really a “one size fits all”. That’s not only true with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions like hearing loss. This can be accurate for numerous reasons.

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

There are different types of hearing loss

Because hearing is such an intricate 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 maybe you only have trouble with high-pitched voices or low-pitched sounds. There are numerous forms that your hearing loss can take.

How your hearing loss shows up, in part, could be dictated by what causes your symptoms to begin with. Because your ear is a fairly complex little organ, there are any number of things that can go wrong.

How your hearing works

It’s helpful to get an understanding of how hearing is supposed to work before we can determine what degree of hearing loss requires a hearing aid. 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 is composed of 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 picked up by these little hairs which are then converted into electrical signals. 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: All of the parts listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are elements of your “auditory system”. The total hearing process depends on all of these components working in concert with one another. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any issue in one area will usually affect the performance of the entire system.

Varieties of hearing loss

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

Here are some of the most common causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This kind of hearing loss occurs because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, frequently in the outer or middle ear. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (this usually happens, for example, when you have an ear infection). Sometimes, conductive hearing loss can be caused by a growth in the ear canal. Normally, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will return to normal once the blockage is gone.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud sound, the delicate hair cells which detect sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. This type of hearing loss is generally chronic, progressive, and irreversible. Typically, people are encouraged to use ear 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’s also possible to have a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. Because the hearing loss is coming from numerous different places, this can sometimes be challenging to manage.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a relatively rare condition. When sound isn’t effectively transmitted from your ear to your brain, this type of hearing loss occurs. ANSD can usually be managed with a device known as a cochlear implant.

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 types have variations

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

  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss tends to come and go, it may be referred to as fluctuating. If your hearing loss stays at roughly the same levels, it’s called stable.
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it slowly gets worse over time. If your hearing loss arises all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is known as 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 will affect the way hearing loss is addressed.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops due to outside forces (like damage).
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You might experience more trouble hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be classified 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.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to experience hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).

That might seem like a lot, and it is. But your hearing loss will be more successfully managed when we’re able to use these categories.

A hearing test is in order

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 you can get a hearing test to determine precisely what’s going on. Your loss of hearing is kind of like a “check engine” light. We can hook you up to a wide variety of machines, and help determine what type of hearing loss you have.

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