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 disappointed (and shocked) when the shirt doesn’t, in fact, fit as advertised? That’s really aggravating. There aren’t really very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. That’s true with t-shirts and it’s also true with medical conditions, like hearing loss. This can be accurate for numerous reasons.

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

There are different kinds of hearing loss

Because hearing is such a complex mental and physical process, no two people’s hearing loss will be exactly the same. Perhaps when you’re in a crowded restaurant you can’t hear very well, but at work, you hear fine. Or maybe you only have trouble with high 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. Because your ear is a very complex little organ, there are any number of things that can go wrong.

How your hearing works

Before you can completely understand how hearing loss works, or what degree of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid, it’s practical to consider how things are supposed to work, how your ear is generally supposed to work. Check out this breakdown:

  • Outer ear: This is the visible portion of the ear. 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 middle ear consists of your eardrum and a few tiny ear bones (yes, you have bones in your ear, but they are admittedly very, very tiny).
  • Inner ear: This is where your stereocilia are found. Vibration is picked up by these little hairs which are then converted into electrical signals. Your cochlea plays a role in this also. This electrical energy is then sent to your brain.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve is located in your ear, and it’s responsible for transmitting and sending this electrical energy towards your brain.
  • Auditory system: From your brain to your outer ear, the “auditory system” includes all of the elements discussed above. The complete hearing process depends on all of these parts working in unison with each other. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any problem in one area will usually affect the performance of the entire system.

Types of hearing loss

There are multiple forms of hearing loss because there are multiple parts of the ear. The root cause of your hearing loss will determine which type 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, often the middle or outer ear, this form of hearing loss happens. Normally, this blockage is due to fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for example, this usually happens). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. Once the blockage is eliminated, hearing will normally go back to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the fragile hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud noise they are normally destroyed. Usually, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent type of hearing loss. Because of this, people are usually encouraged to prevent this type of hearing loss by wearing hearing protection. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, it can be effectively treated with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to experience 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: It’s fairly rare for someone to develop ANSD. It occurs when the cochlea doesn’t properly transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. A device called a cochlear implant is normally used to manage this kind of hearing loss.

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

Variations on hearing loss kinds

And there’s more. We can analyze and categorize these common forms of hearing loss even more specifically. For instance, hearing loss can also be classified as:

  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to develop 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.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s called “congenital”.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be classified as one or the other depending on what frequency range is getting lost.
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that gradually worsens over time is called “progressive”. If your hearing loss arises all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to talk, it’s called pre-lingual. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to speak. This will impact the way hearing loss is treated.
  • Fluctuating or stable: If your hearing loss tends to come and go, it might be referred to as fluctuating. If your hearing loss stays at approximately the same levels, it’s known as stable.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that happens due to outside forces (like damage).

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 classifications.

A hearing exam is in order

So how can you tell which of these classifications pertains to your hearing loss scenario? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, regrettably, something that’s at all accurate. For instance, is your cochlea functioning correctly, how would you know?

But you can get a hearing exam to find out precisely what’s going on. Your loss of hearing is sort of like a “check engine” light. We can connect you to a wide variety of machines, and help establish what type of hearing loss you have.

So the best way to figure out 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.

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