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 sort of a bummer, right? The truth is that there’s virtually nothing in the world that is really a “one size fits all”. That’s true with t-shirts and it’s also relevant with medical conditions, such as hearing loss. This can be true for many reasons.

So what are the most prevalent kinds of hearing loss and what are their causes? Well, that’s exactly what we intend to find out.

There are different types of hearing loss

Because hearing is such an intricate cognitive and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be exactly the same. Maybe when you’re in a noisy restaurant you can’t hear that well, but when you’re at work, you hear just fine. Or perhaps you only have trouble with high-pitched voices or low-pitched sounds. There are numerous forms that your hearing loss can take.

The underlying cause of your hearing loss will dictate how it manifests. Lots of things can go wrong with an organ as intricate as the ear.

How your hearing works

Before you can completely understand how hearing loss works, or what level of hearing loss requires a hearing aid, it’s helpful to consider how things are supposed to function, how your ear is typically supposed to work. Check out this breakdown:

  • Outer ear: This is the visible portion of the ear. It’s where you are 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: Your stereocilia are found hear. Vibration is picked up by these delicate hairs which are then converted into electrical signals. Your cochlea helps here, also. These electrical signals are then sent to your brain.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve is located in your ear, and it’s responsible for channeling and directing this electrical energy to your brain.
  • Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” includes all of the elements discussed above. The overall hearing process depends on all of these elements working in concert with one another. Usually, in other words, the whole system will be affected if any one part has problems.

Types of hearing loss

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

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 type of hearing loss happens. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the reason for this blockage (this typically 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 go back to normal when the obstruction has been removed.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the fragile hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are normally destroyed. This form of hearing loss is typically chronic, progressive, and irreversible. Typically, individuals are encouraged to wear ear protection to avoid this kind of hearing loss. 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: ANSD is a rather rare condition. When sound is not effectively transmitted from your ear to your brain, this type of hearing loss occurs. ANSD can normally be treated with a device called a cochlear implant.

Each form of hearing loss requires a different treatment method, but the desired results are usually the same: to improve or maintain your ability to hear.

Hearing loss types have variations

And there’s more. Any of these normal types of hearing loss can be further categorized (and more specifically). For instance, hearing loss can also be classified as:

  • 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: This means you’re either going through hearing loss in just one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s known as “congenital”.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is called 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 can have ramifications for treatment and adaptation.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops as a consequence of outside causes (such as damage).
  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it gradually gets worse over time. Hearing loss that appears or shows up immediately is known as “sudden”.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You may experience more trouble hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be classified as one or the other.
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss tends to appear and disappear, it might be referred to as fluctuating. If your hearing loss remains at about the same levels, it’s called stable.

If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. The point is that each categorization helps us more accurately and effectively treat your symptoms.

A hearing test is in order

So how can you be sure which of these classifications pertains to your hearing loss scenario? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, regrettably, something that is at all accurate. It will be difficult for you to determine, for instance, whether your cochlea is functioning 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 bring it to a skilled auto technician. We can connect you to a wide range of machines, and help identify what type of hearing loss you have.

So give us a call as soon as you can and schedule an appointment to find out what’s going on.

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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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