Illini Hearing - Champaign and Mahomet, IL

Shot of a senior man drinking coffee and looking thoughtfully out of a window wondering about hearing loss.

Have you ever purchased 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? That’s truly aggravating. There aren’t really 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. This can be true for many reasons.

So what causes hearing loss? And what is the most common type of hearing loss? Well, that’s exactly what we intend to explore.

Hearing loss comes in different types

Everybody’s hearing loss situation will be as unique as they are. Maybe when you’re in a crowded restaurant you can’t hear that well, but at work, you hear fine. Or perhaps you only have difficulty with high-pitched voices 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 dictate how it manifests. Because your ear is a fairly complex little organ, there are lots of things that can go wrong.

How your hearing works

Before you can completely understand how hearing loss works, or what level of hearing loss requires a hearing aid, it’s practical to think a bit about how things are supposed to function, how your ear is typically 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. The shape of your ear helps direct 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. Vibration is detected by these delicate hairs which are then converted into electrical energy. Your cochlea helps here, also. This electrical energy is then carried 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” encompasses all of the elements discussed above. It’s essential to understand that all of these components are continually working together and in concert with each other. Put simply, the system is interconnected, so any problem in one area will usually impact the performance of the whole system.

Varieties of hearing loss

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

The common types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This form of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, frequently in the outer or middle ear. Normally, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this usually happens). In some cases, 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 tiny hair cells which detect sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. This form of hearing loss is generally chronic, progressive, and permanent. Typically, people are encouraged to wear ear protection to prevent this type of hearing loss. If you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be treated by devices such as 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 numerous different places, this can sometimes be difficult to treat.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a fairly rare condition. It happens when the cochlea doesn’t effectively transmit sounds from your ear to your brain. A device known as a cochlear implant is usually used to manage this type of hearing loss.

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

Variations on hearing loss kinds

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

  • 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.
  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that happens due to outside forces (such as damage).
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that gradually worsens over time is called “progressive”. If your hearing loss occurs all at once, it’s known as “sudden”.
  • 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 known as pre-lingual when it develops before you learned to talk. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to talk. This will impact the way hearing loss is managed.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be classified as one or the other depending on which frequency range is getting lost.
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss refers to hearing loss that comes and goes. Stable hearing loss stays at about the same level.
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.

That might seem like a lot, and it is. But your hearing loss will be more successfully treated when we’re able to use these categories.

Time to get a hearing test

So how can you tell what type, and what sub-type, of hearing loss you’re experiencing? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, regrettably, something that’s at all accurate. It will be hard for you to know, for example, whether your cochlea is working correctly.

But that’s what hearing exams are for! Your loss of hearing is kind of like a “check engine” light. We can help you figure out what type of hearing loss you have by hooking you up to a wide variety of modern technology.

So give us a call as soon as you can and make 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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