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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 discouraged to find that it didn’t fit at all? It’s sort of a bummer, isn’t it? 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, such as hearing loss. There can be a wide variety of reasons why it happens.

So what are the most common types of hearing loss and what are their causes? Let’s see what we can find out!

Hearing loss comes in different types

Everyone’s hearing loss scenario will be as unique as they are. Perhaps when you’re in a crowded 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, could be dictated by what’s causing your symptoms to begin with. Any number of things can go wrong with an organ as complex as the ear.

How does hearing work?

Before you can completely understand how hearing loss works, or what level of hearing loss requires a hearing aid, it’s practical to think a bit about how things are supposed to work, how your ear is generally supposed to work. Check out this breakdown:

  • Outer ear: This is the portion of the ear that you can see. It’s where you are first exposed to a “sound”. Sounds are efficiently guided 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: This is where your stereocilia are found. Vibration is picked up by these delicate hairs which are then transformed into electrical energy. Your cochlea helps here, also. This electrical energy is then carried to your brain.
  • 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 parts discussed above. The overall hearing process depends on all of these elements working in unison with each other. Usually, in other words, the whole system will be affected if any one part has issues.

Hearing loss varieties

There are numerous forms of hearing loss because there are numerous parts of the ear. 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: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often the middle or outer ear, this form of hearing loss happens. Typically, this blockage is caused by fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this typically happens). Sometimes, conductive hearing loss can be caused by a growth in the ear canal. Usually, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will go back to normal as soon as the blockage has been removed.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the fragile hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are usually destroyed. This type of hearing loss is usually chronic, progressive, and permanent. Because of this, individuals are normally encouraged to prevent this kind of hearing loss by using ear protection. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be managed by devices like 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 several different places, this can sometimes be challenging to manage.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s relatively rare for somebody to develop ANSD. It happens when the cochlea doesn’t effectively transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. ANSD can normally be managed with a device known as a cochlear implant.

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

Variations on hearing loss types

And that isn’t all! We can break down and categorize these common forms of hearing loss even more specifically. Here are some examples:

  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that slowly worsens over time is called “progressive”. If your hearing loss happens all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s called “congenital”.
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss due to outside forces, like damage, it’s known as “acquired”.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either experiencing hearing loss in just one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is called pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to speak. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to talk. This can have ramifications for treatment and adaptation.
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss describes hearing loss that comes and goes. Stable hearing loss remains at relatively the same level.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You may experience more difficulty 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.

That might seem like a lot, and it is. The point is that each categorization helps us more accurately and effectively manage your symptoms.

A hearing test is in order

So how can you be sure which of these classifications pertains to your hearing loss situation? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, unfortunately, something that’s at all accurate. It will be hard for you to know, for instance, whether your cochlea is functioning correctly.

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 hook you up to a wide variety 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 make an appointment with us today!

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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.