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 try it on, you were discouraged to find that it didn’t fit at all? That’s really frustrating. 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 like hearing loss. There can be numerous reasons why it occurs.

So what’s the cause of hearing loss? And what is the most prevalent kind of hearing loss? Well, that’s exactly what we intend to explore.

There are different kinds of hearing loss

Everyone’s hearing loss scenario will be as unique as they are. Maybe you hear just fine at the office, but not in a crowded restaurant. Or maybe you only have difficulty with high or low-pitched sounds. There are a wide variety of 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 figure out what degree of hearing loss requires a hearing aid. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Outer ear: This is the part of the ear that’s visible. It’s where you’re initially 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 eardrum and several 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. These tiny hairs detect vibrations and begin converting those vibrations into electrical signals. Your cochlea plays a role in this also. Our brain then receives this electrical energy.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve directs these electrical signals to the brain.
  • Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” includes all of the elements discussed above. It’s essential to recognize that all of these components are continually working together and in concert with one another. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any issue in one area will usually impact the performance of the entire system.

Varieties of hearing loss

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

Here are some of the most common 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 occurs. Typically, this blockage is caused by fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for example, this usually occurs). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. Usually, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will go back to normal once the blockage has been removed.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the tiny hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are usually destroyed. This type of hearing loss is generally chronic, progressive, and irreversible. Usually, individuals are encouraged to use ear protection to avoid this kind of hearing loss. If you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated 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 difficult to manage.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a fairly rare condition. It happens when the cochlea does not properly transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. ANSD can usually be managed with a device called a cochlear implant.

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

Variations on hearing loss types

And that’s not all! Any of these normal types of hearing loss can be categorized further (and more specifically). Here are some examples:

  • Progressive or sudden: You have “progressive” hearing loss if it slowly gets worse over time. If your hearing loss occurs all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops due to outside causes (such as damage).
  • 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 talk, it’s known as post-lingual. This can have implications for treatment and adaptation.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to experience hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss refers to hearing loss that appears and disappears. Stable hearing loss remains at around the same level.
  • 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: This indicates whether your hearing loss is the same in both ears or unequal in both ears.

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.

Time to have a hearing exam

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

But you can get a hearing test to find out precisely what’s happening. Your loss of hearing is kind of like a “check engine” light. We can connect you to a wide range of machines, and help establish what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with.

So the best way to understand 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.

Medical information dates as new research comes out all the time - if you have a concern about your hearing, please call us.

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