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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 promoted 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 sort of a bummer, isn’t it? There aren’t really 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 numerous reasons why it happens.

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

Hearing loss comes in different kinds

Everybody’s hearing loss scenario will be as unique as they are. Perhaps you hear perfectly well at the office, but not in a noisy restaurant. Or perhaps you only have difficulty with high-pitched voices or low-pitched sounds. Your hearing loss can take a wide range of shapes.

The underlying cause of your hearing loss will dictate how it manifests. Because your ear is a very complex little organ, there are any number of things that can go wrong.

How does hearing work?

It’s helpful to get an idea of how hearing is supposed to work before we can figure out what level of hearing loss requires a hearing aid. Check out this breakdown:

  • Outer ear: This is the visible portion of the ear. It’s the initial sound receiver. The shape of your ear helps direct those sounds into your middle ear (where they are further processed).
  • Middle ear: The eardrum and a few 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: Your stereocilia are found hear. These tiny hairs pick up on vibrations and start translating those vibrations into electrical signals. Your cochlea helps here, too. These electrical signals are then sent 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” encompasses all of the elements discussed above. It’s important to understand that all of these components are constantly working together and in concert with each other. Typically, in other words, the whole system will be impacted if any one part has problems.

Varieties of hearing loss

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

The common 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 outer or middle ear. Usually, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (this typically happens, for instance, when you have an ear infection). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. Typically, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will return to normal as soon as the blockage has been removed.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the tiny hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are normally destroyed. Usually, this is a chronic, progressive and irreversible form of hearing loss. As a result, people are normally encouraged to avoid this type of hearing loss by wearing hearing protection. If you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be managed by devices such as hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It occasionally happens that someone will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss simultaneously. This can sometimes be challenging to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a rather 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 known as a cochlear implant.

Each form of hearing loss calls for a different treatment strategy, but the desired results are often the same: improving your hearing ability.

Variations on hearing loss types

And there’s more. Any of these normal types of hearing loss can be categorized further (and with more specificity). Here are some examples:

  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that happens as a consequence of outside forces (such as damage).
  • 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 known as stable.
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that gradually gets worse over time is called “progressive”. Hearing loss that appears or shows up instantly is called “sudden”.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to experience hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be categorized as one or the other depending on what frequency range is getting lost.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is known as pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to speak. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to speak, it’s called post-lingual. This will impact the way hearing loss is addressed.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: If your hearing loss is the same in both ears it’s symmetrical and if it’s not the same in both ears it’s asymmetrical.

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

Time to get a hearing test

So how can you tell which of these classifications pertains to your hearing loss scenario? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can accurately diagnose by yourself. As an example, is your cochlea working properly, how would you know?

But that’s what hearing tests are for! Your loss of hearing is sort of like a “check engine” light. We can hook you up to a wide range of machines, and help identify what type of hearing loss you have.

So contact us today and make an appointment to figure 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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