Understanding the Configurations of Hearing Loss

Dr. David Dekriekhearing health, hearing loss, hearing loss research

Understanding the Configurations of Hearing Loss

If you’ve just had your hearing tested, you may have been introduced to the term “hearing configuration”. A hearing configuration is the term used to describe the information from an audiogram. It explains how well different aspects of your hearing work, and if hearing loss is present, it articulates where your hearing is impaired. When your hearing specialist programs your hearing aids, they use your hearing configuration as a guideline for making sure your devices are designed for your specific hearing needs.

Let’s take a look at some of the different aspects of hearing configuration and what they mean.

High or Low Frequency Hearing Loss

One of the main aspects of your hearing that an audiogram conveys is how well you are able to hear different frequencies of sound. If you have trouble experiencing high-pitched noises such as children’s voices, birdsongs or the sounds of metal and glass, this is symptomatic of high-frequency hearing loss.

Damage to the hair cells that detect low-pitched sound can lead to the reverse pattern, low-frequency hearing loss. Inside the inner ear, the hair cells detecting high frequencies are more vulnerable than those that perceive low frequencies, thus high frequency hearing loss is more common.

In subjects with hearing loss of both high and low frequencies the hearing configuration is flat, meaning hearing is lost fairly consistently along different frequencies. Someone without hearing loss would also have a flat configuration, demonstrating a consistent ability to hear across frequencies, but their configuration would show hearing without impairment.

Progressive or Sudden Hearing Loss

A hearing configuration also takes into account whether hearing loss happens gradually or rapidly. Gradual hearing loss is by far the most common form of hearing loss, as the auditory system becomes more delicate as we age and sustained damages to the inner ear are compounded. Gradual hearing loss becomes more and more significant over time, so its important to have your hearing checked regularly whether or not you are aware of hearing loss.

Sudden hearing loss happens exactly as it sounds, suddenly, and is cause to seek immediate medical attention. Damage, blockage, and infection can all cause sudden hearing loss. Sudden hearing loss can be temporary or permanent, so it is important to seek treatment as soon as you notice a problem.

Unilateral or Bilateral Hearing Loss

Whether your hearing loss occurs in one or both ears determines whether the hearing loss is unilateral or bilateral. Bilateral hearing loss shows hearing impairment in both ears, while unilateral hearing loss occurs in only one ear.

Unilateral hearing loss is especially present in those who frequently handle loud equipment or firearms on a specific side of their body, exposing one ear to greater sound risks than the other.

Bilateral hearing is responsible for our ability to locate sound sources, so unilateral hearing loss can have just as big an influence on our hearing ability as bilateral loss. If your hearing specialist recommends a hearing aid or device for unilateral hearing loss, it is important to understand the advantages of restoring your ability to hear bilaterally.

Symmetrical or Asymmetrical Hearing Loss

Audiograms also show whether your hearing ability is the same in both ears or whether there are differences in hearing loss between the ears. Hearing loss that has similar degree and frequency configuration across both ears is called “symmetrical” and loss that is differently configured between the ears is called “asymmetrical”.  Asymmetrical hearing loss can result from a number of factors, including sound exposure that is frequently concentrated on one side of the body.

In treating asymmetrical hearing loss, two hearing aids will be programmed differently to account for the differences in hearing between the ears. In symmetrical treatment, the hearing aids are programmed uniformly.

Treating Hearing Loss and Responding to Your Hearing Configuration

If hearing loss is found in your audiogram, your hearing loss configuration is the first key to its treatment. Treating hearing loss effectively is built around restoring your ability to hear bilaterally, and usually involves the recommendation of a set of hearing aids programmed to your hearing configuration.

Impulse may suggest that trying to restore hearing in a single ear is just as good as a comprehensive approach, but this simply isn’t true. Hearing with both ears is necessary for placing sounds and navigating noises in a space. Bilateral hearing gives us important cues that allow us to follow conversations and avoid danger. Plus, hearing bilaterally magnifies our ability to hear. If you can hear a noise ten feet away with one ear, with two ears you can detect the same noise 40 feet away.  Understand the value of bilateral hearing as you work with us at Fidelity Hearing Centers to find the best hearing solutions for you.