Have you ever seen a t-shirt advertised as “one size fits all” but when you went to try it on, you were disheartened to find that it didn’t fit at all? It’s kind of a bummer, isn’t it? The reality is that there’s almost nothing in the world that is truly a “one size fits all”. That’s not only true with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions such as hearing loss. This can be true for many reasons.
So what’s the cause of hearing loss? And what’s the most common kind of hearing loss? Let’s see what we can find out!
Hearing loss comes in different forms
Because hearing is such an intricate mental and physical process, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Perhaps when you’re in a crowded restaurant you can’t hear very well, but at work, you hear fine. Or, maybe certain frequencies of sound get lost. Your loss of hearing can take a wide range of forms.
How your hearing loss shows up, in part, might be determined by what’s causing your symptoms to begin with. Lots of things can go wrong with an organ as intricate as the ear.
How your hearing works
Before you can totally understand how hearing loss works, or what level of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid, it’s helpful to think a bit about how things are supposed to function, how your ear is usually supposed to work. Check out this breakdown:
- Outer ear: This is the portion of the ear that you can see. It’s the initial sound receiver. The shape of your ear helps funnel those sounds into your middle ear (where they are further processed).
- 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: Your stereocilia are found hear. Vibration is picked up by these fragile hairs which are then converted into electrical signals. Your cochlea plays a part in this also. This electrical energy is then carried to your brain.
- Auditory nerve: This nerve sends these electrical signals to the brain.
- Auditory system: All of the parts listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are components of your “auditory system”. The overall hearing process depends on all of these components working in unison with each other. In other words, the system is interconnected, so any problem in one area will typically affect the performance of the whole system.
Hearing loss types
There are multiple forms of hearing loss because there are multiple parts of the ear. Which form you experience will depend on the underlying cause.
The common types of hearing loss include:
- Conductive hearing loss: This kind of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, frequently in the middle or outer ear. Normally, this blockage is due to fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this usually happens). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. Once the obstruction is removed, hearing will normally return to normal.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: When the delicate hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are normally destroyed. This type of hearing loss is usually chronic, progressive, and permanent. Usually, people are encouraged to wear ear protection to prevent this kind of hearing loss. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, it can be successfully managed with hearing aids.
- Mixed hearing loss: It occasionally happens that somebody will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss at the same time. Because the hearing loss is coming from several different places, this can sometimes be challenging to treat.
- Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s fairly rare for somebody to develop ANSD. It happens when the cochlea does not properly transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. ANSD can usually be treated with a device known as 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 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 a few examples:
- Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This indicates whether your hearing loss is equal in both ears or unequal in both ears.
- Acquired hearing loss: If you develop hearing loss as a result of outside causes, like damage, it’s known as “acquired”.
- 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.
- Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss has a tendency to come and go, it may be referred to as fluctuating. Stable hearing loss remains at relatively the same level.
- Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to experience hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
- Pre-lingual or post-lingual: Hearing loss is called pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to speak. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to speak, it’s known as post-lingual. This will affect the way hearing loss is managed.
- Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that gradually worsens over time is called “progressive”. If your hearing loss happens all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
- Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. The point is that each classification helps us more accurately and effectively address your symptoms.
Time to get a hearing test
So how can you be sure which of these categories applies to your hearing loss situation? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can self-diagnose with much accuracy. It will be difficult for you to determine, for example, whether your cochlea is functioning correctly.
But you can get a hearing test to determine precisely what’s happening. Your loss of hearing is kind of like a “check engine” light. We can help you determine what type of hearing loss you have by hooking you up to a wide range of modern technology.
So call us as soon as you can and make an appointment to figure out what’s going on.
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