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 disappointed (and surprised) when the shirt doesn’t, in fact, fit as advertised? That’s truly annoying. There aren’t actually very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. That’s not only relevant with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions such as hearing loss. There can be a wide variety of reasons why it occurs.

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

Everybody’s hearing loss situation will be as individual as they are. Perhaps you hear perfectly well at the office, but not in a crowded restaurant. Or maybe you only have trouble with high or low-pitched sounds. There are numerous forms that your hearing loss can take.

The underlying cause of your hearing loss will determine how it manifests. Any number of things can go wrong with an organ as complex as the ear.

How your hearing works

It’s helpful to get an idea of how hearing is supposed to work before we can understand what level of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Outer ear: This is the visible part of the ear. It’s where you are first exposed to a “sound”. Sounds are effectively funneled into your middle ear for further processing by the shape of your outer ear.
  • Middle ear: The eardrum and some tiny bones are what your middle ear is composed of (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
  • Inner ear: This is where your stereocilia are found. Vibration is picked up by these fragile hairs which are then converted into electrical energy. Your cochlea plays a role in this also. These electrical signals are then transmitted to your brain.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve is inside of your ear, and it’s responsible for transmitting 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. The total hearing process depends on all of these components working in concert with each other. Typically, in other words, the whole system will be impacted if any one part has issues.

Hearing loss varieties

Because there are multiple parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) numerous forms of hearing loss. Which type you experience will depend on the underlying cause.

Here are some of the most prevalent causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, usually the middle or outer ear, this form of hearing loss happens. Typically, this blockage is a consequence of fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this usually happens). In some cases, conductive hearing loss can be the result of a growth in the ear canal. Typically, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will return to normal as soon as the obstruction has been removed.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the tiny hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are usually destroyed. This form of hearing loss is usually chronic, progressive, and irreversible. As a result, individuals are normally encouraged to avoid this type of hearing loss by using hearing protection. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, it can be effectively treated with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It occasionally happens that someone will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss simultaneously. Because the hearing loss is coming from several different places, this can sometimes be challenging to manage.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a relatively rare condition. When sound is not effectively transmitted from your ear to your brain, this kind of hearing loss occurs. ANSD can normally be treated with a device called a cochlear implant.

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

Variations on hearing loss types

And that’s not all! We can analyze and categorize these common types of hearing loss even more specifically. For instance, hearing loss can also be classified as:

  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either experiencing hearing loss in only one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss tends to appear and disappear, it might be referred to as fluctuating. If your hearing loss stays at about the same levels, it’s known as stable.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s called “congenital”.
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you develop hearing loss as a result of external forces, like damage, it’s called “acquired”.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is known as pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to talk. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to speak. This will impact the way hearing loss is managed.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This tells you whether your hearing loss is the same in both ears or unequal in both ears.
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually worsens over time. If your hearing loss occurs all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You may have more trouble hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be categorized as one or the other.

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

A hearing test is in order

So how can you tell which type, and which sub-type, of hearing loss you have? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, regrettably, something that is at all accurate. As an example, is your cochlea working properly, how would you know?

But you can get a hearing test to determine exactly what’s happening. 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 determine what type of hearing loss you have.

So the best way to understand what’s going on 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.

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