Are There Different Kinds of Hearing Loss?

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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 bought one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be dismayed (and shocked) when the shirt doesn’t, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s sort of a bummer, isn’t it? There aren’t actually very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. That’s not only true with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions like hearing loss. There can be numerous reasons why it happens.

So what’s the cause of hearing loss? And what’s the most prevalent type of hearing loss? Let’s see what we can find out!

Hearing loss comes in different types

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

How your hearing loss presents, in part, could be dictated by what causes your symptoms in the first place. 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 useful to get an idea of how hearing is supposed to work before we can determine what level of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid. Check out this breakdown:

  • Outer ear: This is the part of the ear that’s visible. It’s the initial sound receiver. Sounds are efficiently funneled into your middle ear for further processing by the shape of your outer ear.
  • Middle ear: The eardrum and several tiny bones are what your middle ear is composed of (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
  • 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 too. These electrical signals are then carried to your brain.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve is inside of 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” encompasses all of the parts discussed above. The total hearing process depends on all of these components working in concert with one another. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any issue in one area will typically affect the performance of the entire system.

Hearing loss types

There are numerous forms of hearing loss because there are numerous parts of the ear. The underlying cause of your hearing loss will determine which kind of hearing loss you develop.

The prevalent types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, usually the middle or outer ear, this type of hearing loss happens. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the reason for this blockage (when you have an ear infection, for example, this usually happens). Sometimes, conductive hearing loss can be caused by a growth in the ear canal. When the obstruction is eliminated, hearing will usually return to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud sound, the fragile hair cells which pick up sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. This form of hearing loss is generally chronic, progressive, and irreversible. Typically, people are encouraged to wear ear protection to prevent this kind of hearing loss. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, it can be successfully treated with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It occasionally happens that somebody will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss simultaneously. Because the hearing loss is coming from numerous different places, this can sometimes be difficult to treat.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a rather rare condition. It occurs when the cochlea does not effectively transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. A device known as a cochlear implant is normally used to treat this kind of hearing loss.

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

Variations on hearing loss types

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

  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to speak, it’s called pre-lingual. If your hearing loss developed after you learned to speak, it’s called post-lingual. This will affect the way hearing loss is treated.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s called “congenital”.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss refers to hearing loss that comes and goes. If your hearing loss remains at approximately the same levels, it’s known as stable.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You might have more trouble hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be classified as one or the other.
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that gradually gets worse over time is called “progressive”. If your hearing loss arises all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you experience hearing loss as a result of outside forces, such as damage, it’s called “acquired”.
  • 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.

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

Time to get a hearing test

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

But that’s what hearing tests are for! Your loss of hearing is kind of like a “check engine” light. We can help you identify what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with by hooking you up to a wide range of modern technology.

So call us today and schedule an appointment to figure 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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