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 disheartened to find that it didn’t fit at all? It’s kind of a bummer, right? The fact is that there’s pretty much 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. There can be a wide variety of reasons why it happens.

So what causes hearing loss? And what is the most common kind of hearing loss? Let’s find out!

Hearing loss comes in different kinds

Because hearing is such a complex mental and physical process, no two people’s hearing loss will be exactly the same. Maybe when you’re in a crowded restaurant you can’t hear very well, but at work, you hear fine. Or, perhaps specific frequencies of sound get lost. Your hearing loss can take a wide variety of shapes.

How your hearing loss shows up, in part, could be dictated by what’s causing your symptoms to begin with. Lots of things can go wrong with an organ as complex as the ear.

How does hearing work?

Before you can totally understand how hearing loss works, or what level of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid, it’s helpful to consider how things are supposed to work, how your ear is generally supposed to work. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Outer ear: This is the visible portion of the ear. It’s the initial sound receiver. Sounds are effectively guided into your middle ear for further processing by the shape of your outer ear.
  • Middle ear: The middle ear consists of your eardrum and a few tiny ear bones (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
  • Inner ear: This is where your stereocilia are found. These delicate hairs pick up on vibrations and start translating those vibrations into electrical signals. Your cochlea helps here, 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 components listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are components of your “auditory system”. The complete hearing process depends on all of these elements working in unison with each other. Typically, in other words, the entire system will be impacted if any one part has problems.

Hearing loss varieties

Because there are multiple parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) multiple types of hearing loss. The root cause of your hearing loss will determine which kind of hearing loss you develop.

Here are some of the most prevalent causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This form of hearing loss occurs because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, frequently in the middle or outer ear. Usually, fluid or inflammation is the reason for this blockage (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this usually occurs). Sometimes, conductive hearing loss can be caused by a growth in the ear canal. When the blockage is eliminated, hearing will normally return to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the delicate hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are usually destroyed. Usually, this is a chronic, progressive and irreversible form of hearing loss. Typically, people are encouraged to use hearing protection to prevent this type of hearing loss. If you have sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated by devices such as 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 takes place when the cochlea doesn’t properly transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. ANSD can normally be treated with a device called a cochlear implant.

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

Variations on hearing loss kinds

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

  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that slowly gets worse over time is called “progressive”. Hearing loss that appears or shows up instantly is known as “sudden”.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: You might have more difficulty hearing high or low-frequency sounds. Your hearing loss can then be categorized as one or the other.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s called “congenital”.
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss describes hearing loss that appears and disappears. If your hearing loss stays at about the same levels, it’s known as stable.
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you develop hearing loss due to outside causes, such as damage, it’s called “acquired”.
  • 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 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).
  • 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. But your hearing loss will be more effectively managed when we’re able to use these categories.

Time to get a hearing exam

So how can you be sure which of these classifications pertains to your hearing loss situation? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, unfortunately, something that is at all accurate. It will be hard for you to determine, for example, whether your cochlea is working properly.

But you can get a hearing exam to find out exactly what’s happening. It’s like when you have a check engine light on in your car and you bring it to a qualified auto technician. We can help you determine what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with by connecting you to a wide range of modern technology.

So contact us today and make 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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