Hearing loss comes in many different flavors. It’s kind of like popsicles that way. Except, it’s not frozen… and, y’know, not nearly as tasty. On that note, it’s far less likely to give you an ice cream headache as well. So that’s a plus.
Types of Hearing Loss
Because there is a wide variety of hearing loss types, we’ve decided to set you up with a not-so brief look at the smorgasbord of hearing loss “genres” that you may or may not be living with. Are you ready to be informed? (Don’t answer that. It was a rhetorical question.)
Hear’re seven types of hearing loss:
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
What a mouthful. This is the most common form of hearing loss experienced by the average Joe or Jane. It occurs when there’s been damage to the cells of the inner ear, or the auditory nerve itself. Typically, this can block or weaken the necessary transfer of nerve signals to the brain. These nerve signals are responsible for carrying info about the loudness and clarity of sounds to your lobes – the kind that’s located in between your ears, not on them.
When you have this category of hearing loss, noises can seem either too loud or too quiet; the speech of others may sound slurred; you may hear a strange ringing noise in your ear(s); you could have a hard time hearing the voices of women and children; and the art of good, old-fashioned conversation might be a real chore.
Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by aging, blood vessel and autoimmune diseases, heredity, injuries, ototoxic medications, illnesses, unusually loud noises, meningitis, mumps, scarlet fever, measles, and – everyone’s favorite – exposure to noise over time. Gotta love that one.
Conductive Hearing Loss
It may not be the most common form but trust us: conductive hearing loss definitely happens. This occurs when there’s an obstruction or damage to the outer/middle ear that blocks sound from moving back into the inner ear. It can be permanent or temporary. That depends on what caused it. Much like the other types of hearing loss you’ll grow to know and probably not love, it’s not what you would call “fun.”
Since the inner ear and auditory nerve is intact, anyone who experiences conductive hearing loss will find themselves straining to hear the pitch and loudness of sounds and voices, even though they may still pick up certain conversation points loud and clear. They’ll also have an easier time hearing out of one ear than the other, feel pain or pressure in either ear, get flustered during telephone conversations, think that their own voice sounds loud or “different somehow,” and maybe even smell a not-so-sweet scent wafting out of their ear canal on certain occasions. (Ew.)
Technically speaking, conductive hearing loss is caused by many different factors that affect the functionality of the outer and middle ears. Thus, it can be tricky to single out one root cause for this issue. But don’t let that stop you.
Mixed Hearing Loss
Just like its name suggests, the next entry on our list combines the worst parts of sensorineural and conductive hearing losses to make a mixed medley of aural discombobulation. Mixed hearing loss occurs when there’s damage in both the outer and the middle ear which significantly affects the capability of sound to travel back to their inner cousin properly. In some instances, the cochlea, auditory nerve, or other inner ear structures within the inner ear suffer some degree of impairment as well. Ouch!
Cases of mixed hearing loss usually range from mild to severe, and just like the conductive kind, there’s a myriad of factors that cause it. A person’s symptoms can vary depending on how much of each hearing loss type their precious ears are affected by.
For instance, if an individual has more conductive hearing loss, they may find it difficult to understand speech and pick up sounds that are softer in volume than those pesky unwanted background noises that have become the bane of their existence. If they’re leaning towards the sensorineural hearing loss end of the spectrum, other people’s speech may be distorted. Even if they’re blaring Top 40 hits at a loud enough volume, the person in question may still struggle with comprehending what’s being said (or sung).
Age and factors like certain medication, genetic predisposition, and – you guessed it – continuous exposure to loud noises can contribute to this type. Think of this one as the “greatest hits of hearing loss.”
Sudden Hearing Loss
Otherwise known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL), this category is defined as a loss of hearing greater than 30 decibels in three neighboring frequencies, occurring over a period of fewer than three days.
SSNHL kind of creeps up on you – hence the “sudden” part. Maybe you’ll notice it upon awakening in the morning, maybe it’ll strike before you go to bed. Either way, it will rapidly develop over hours or days. Some people hear a “pop” sound in their ears when it starts to set in. Sometimes it’s immediate, sometimes it’s not. Truth be told, it’s hard to predict when and where SSNHL will strike next…it’s like a ninja in the night: silent but deadly.
Unilateral Hearing Loss
Unilateral hearing loss – or single-sided deafness (SSD, yet another acronym for you to learn) – is when only one ear loses its ability to hear (See a graphic record produced by audiometry below). This can be temporary or permanent depending on how it originated. SSD can be a symptom of viral infections, head injuries, and sometimes surgical procedures. Oh my!
Besides impaired hearing on one side, SSD can cause difficulty determining which direction a sound is coming from. This can make walking across the street or driving to the gas station around the corner a nerve-wracking experience. We’re biting our nails just thinking about it!
High-Frequency Hearing Loss
Just like the other, um, ilk of hearing loss on this list, people who live with this condition struggle to keep up in everyday conversation – especially if the person they’re talking to has a high pitched voice. More often than not, they miss consonants in higher registers such as the letters F, H, and S. Speech often sounds slurred or muffled to them, especially when gabbing away with their friends or relatives on the phone.
What causes high-frequency hearing loss, anyway? (And can we start calling it HFHL for short? No? Okay then.) The three big culprits for this are aging, noise exposure, and certain medical conditions. These are notorious for causing wear and tear on the inner ears’ sensory cells in the lower section of the cochlea. When these are damaged, your ability to translate noises into electrical impulses is severely hindered. And that’s not okay.
Commonly referred to as “ringing in the ears,” tinnitus is one of the most seriously annoying flavors – er, forms of hearing loss out there. It causes people to hear weird sounds that aren’t there like ringing, buzzing, whistling, clicking noises and more. Sometimes, tinnitus makes people hear music that’s not there, too. While we admit that would come in handy sometimes, it’s not healthy, so we don’t condone it.
Since millions of people experience tinnitus in the US alone, it’s become one of the most commonly reported health conditions in the nation. If you stop and think about how many people could be walking around out there listening to music that doesn’t technically exist, it’s a little creepy, no?
Tinnitus comes in two sub-genres: subjective and objective. Subjective tinnitus encompasses those sounds that only the afflicted can hear. Objective tinnitus is much rarer and includes head or ear noises that are audible to both the person who has it and the people around them. Can you imagine if you got a Hall & Oates song stuck in your head and the rest of the world could hear it? Yikes. (We’re trying not to.)
Now that you’re all caught up on the different flavors – er, forms of hearing loss, what’s next?
There are many misconceptions about hearing loss out there. Chances are, you may believe a few of them without even realizing it. For (your) ear’s sake, allow us to help you get a fresh perspective on three common myths about hearing loss you should stop believing.
Hear life to the fullest with Eargo. Our direct-to-consumer start-up manufactures an affordable, virtually invisible, and completely rechargeable hearing aid for adults living with mild to moderate, high-frequency hearing loss. Eargo Max is a cure for the common calamities hearing aids can often cause – and your ears are begging to try them out. Lace up your sneaks and run over to shop.eargo.com, where you’ll learn more details. Alternatively, you can request free sample for fit and feel, or call our personal hearing guides with questions at 1-800-734-7603. We’re all ears to help get yours in their best shape! Really, we’re just waiting for you to call. We’re pretty excited…it’s going to be the highlight of our day.
 https://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Sensorineural-Hearing-Loss/ http://adc.bmj.com/content/76/2/134
[a] “Should I wear earplugs to concerts? | Life and style | The Guardian.” 13 May. 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/may/13/should-wearearplugs-to-concerts
[b] “Basic Facts About Hearing Loss | Hearing Loss Association of America.” http://www.hearingloss.org/content/basic-facts-about-hearing-loss