Audiology Associates of North Florida - Tallahassee, FL

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 advertised as “one size fits all” but when you went to try it on, you were discouraged to find that it didn’t fit at all? It’s kind of a bummer, isn’t it? The truth is that there’s virtually nothing in the world that is really a “one size fits all”. That’s true with t-shirts and it’s also true with medical conditions, such as hearing loss. There can be numerous reasons why it happens.

So what are the most common types of hearing loss and what causes them? Well, that’s precisely what we intend to find out.

Hearing loss comes in different kinds

Because hearing is such a complex cognitive and physical process, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Maybe when you’re in a crowded restaurant you can’t hear very well, but when you’re at work, you hear fine. Or maybe you only have trouble with high-pitched voices or low-pitched sounds. There are numerous forms that your hearing loss can take.

The underlying cause of your hearing loss will determine how it manifests. Because your ear is a very complex little organ, there are lots of things that can go wrong.

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 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 part 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, you have bones in your ear, but they are admittedly very, very tiny).
  • Inner ear: Your stereocilia are found hear. These tiny hairs detect vibrations and start translating those vibrations into electrical energy. Your cochlea helps here, also. These electrical signals are 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 elements of your “auditory system”. It’s important to recognize that all of these components are constantly working together and in concert with one another. Usually, in other words, the whole system will be affected if any one part has issues.

Hearing loss types

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

The common types of hearing loss include:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This type of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, frequently in the middle or outer ear. Usually, fluid or inflammation is the cause of this blockage (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this typically happens). A growth in the ear can sometimes cause conductive hearing loss. When the obstruction is removed, hearing will usually go back to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When the tiny hairs that detect sound, called stereocilia, are damaged by loud sound they are normally destroyed. Normally, this is a chronic, progressive and permanent type of hearing loss. Usually, individuals are encouraged to use hearing protection to prevent this type of hearing loss. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, it can be successfully treated with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It’s also possible to have a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. Because the hearing loss is coming from several different places, this can sometimes be challenging to manage.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: ANSD is a relatively rare condition. When sound is not properly transmitted from your ear to your brain, this type of hearing loss occurs. ANSD can usually be treated with a device known as a cochlear implant.

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

Hearing loss types have variations

And that’s not all! We can break down and categorize these common types of hearing loss even more specifically. For instance, hearing loss can also be classified as:

  • Acquired hearing loss: Hearing loss that happens as a consequence of outside forces (like damage).
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that slowly worsens over time is called “progressive”. Hearing loss that erupts or shows up immediately is called “sudden”.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: This means you’re either experiencing hearing loss in only one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be categorized as one or the other depending on what frequency range is getting lost.
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss refers to hearing loss that appears and disappears. If your hearing loss remains at roughly the same levels, it’s known as stable.
  • Congenital hearing loss: Hearing loss you were born with.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: This indicates whether your hearing loss is the same in both ears or unequal in both ears.
  • 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 talk. This will affect the way hearing loss is addressed.

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

Time to have a hearing test

So how can you tell which of these categories applies to your hearing loss situation? Self-diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t, unfortunately, something that is at all accurate. It will be difficult for you to determine, for instance, whether your cochlea is working correctly.

But that’s what hearing examinations are for! 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 identify 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 happening.

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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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