Evanston Audiology - Evanston, 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 surprised) when the shirt does not, in fact, fit as advertised? It’s kind of a bummer, right? 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. There can be many reasons why it happens.

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

There are different kinds of hearing loss

Because hearing is such a complex cognitive and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Maybe when you’re in a noisy restaurant you can’t hear very well, but when you’re at work, you hear fine. Or, maybe certain frequencies of sound get lost. Your hearing loss can take a wide range of forms.

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

How does hearing work?

It’s helpful to get an understanding of how hearing is supposed to work before we can figure out what degree of hearing loss requires a hearing aid. Check out this breakdown:

  • 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 eardrum and some tiny bones are what your middle ear is composed of (Yes, there are some tiny little bones in there).
  • 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. These electrical signals are then carried to your brain.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve is located in your ear, and it’s responsible for transmitting and directing 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 overall hearing process depends on all of these elements working in concert with one another. In other words, the system is interconnected, so any issue in one area will typically affect the performance of the whole system.

Types of hearing loss

Because there are numerous 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.

Here are some of the most common causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: When there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, often the middle or outer ear, this form of hearing loss occurs. Usually, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (this typically happens, for instance, when you have an ear infection). In some cases, conductive hearing loss can be caused by a growth in the ear canal. Typically, with conductive hearing loss, your hearing will go back to normal once the obstruction is gone.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the delicate hairs that pick up sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are usually destroyed. Normally, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent form of hearing loss. Typically, individuals are encouraged to use hearing protection to avoid this kind of hearing loss. If you’re dealing with sensorineural hearing loss, it can still be managed by devices like hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It sometimes happens that somebody will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss simultaneously. Because the hearing loss is coming from several different places, this can sometimes be difficult to manage.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a fairly rare condition. When sound isn’t properly transmitted from your ear to your brain, this type of hearing loss happens. ANSD can normally 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 type of hearing loss: to improve or maintain your ability to hear.

Hearing loss kinds have variations

And that’s not all! We can analyze and categorize these common forms of hearing loss even more specifically. Here are a few examples:

  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that develops as a consequence of outside causes (such as damage).
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss describes hearing loss that comes and goes. Stable hearing loss remains at about the same level.
  • 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’s not the same in both ears it’s asymmetrical.
  • 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 will impact the way hearing loss is addressed.
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • 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”.
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be categorized as one or the other depending on which frequency range is getting lost.

That might seem like a lot, and it is. The point is that each categorization helps us more accurately and effectively manage your symptoms.

Time to have a hearing test

So how can you be sure which of these categories pertains to your hearing loss scenario? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can self-diagnose with much accuracy. For instance, is your cochlea working properly, how would you know?

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

So call 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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