How hearing works
Each ear is made up of three parts. These are known as the inner ear, middle ear and outer ear. The outer ear (pinna) is the part of the ear that is readily seen, and is also the first part of the ear to come into contact with sound. The sound is then ushered from through to the middle ear. Once sound gets to the middle ear, three tiny bones, namely the hammer, anvil and stirrup (also known as the malleus, incus and stapes respectively) begins to vibrate to usher the sound from the middle to the inner ear.
Within the inner ear, there are inner and outer hair cells. Once sound gets to the inner ear, the hair there vibrates. The outer hair cells process the sound waves by making it louder and tuning it. The inner hair cells then sends these soundwaves to the hearing nerve and from the hearing nerve the soundwaves are sent to the brain — allowing you to process and in essence hear the sound.
What happens when you have hearing loss?
Whenever a problem occurs with one of more parts of the ear or ears that cause the ear to not be able to decipher sound properly or at all, one is said to have a hearing impairment or hearing loss. Therefore someone who has partial hearing loss be able to hear some sounds (like sounds at low volume for example), while someone with complete hearing loss may not be able to hear anything at all. Other terms that may be used to describe hearing loss include: hard of hearing, deaf, and deafness.
The different kinds of hearing loss
Not all hearing loss is the same. In some cases, the damage is more severe than others. Some of the more commonly known types of hearing loss include conductive, sensory, neural, central and mixed (sensory and conductive combined) hearing loss. Generally, hearing loss effected by problems in the brain or inner ear are usually more serious, permanent and/or difficult to treat.
- Conductive hearing loss: is arguably the easiest to treat as it is usually temporary and occurs as a result of problems with the outer and middle ear.
- Sensory hearing loss: occurs when the cochlea stops working properly due to damage to the tiny hair cells.
- Neural hearing loss: occurs when there is damage to the nerve that carries soundwaves from the cochlea and the brain.
- Central hearing loss: occurs when the parts of the brain dealing with hearing are not working properly.
What are some of the causes of hearing loss?
Hearing loss can be caused by a myriad of conditions and circumstances. These include:
a. Continued exposure to sounds that are too loud, such as sounds of heavy machinery in a factory or music that is played at too high a volume.
b. Fluid in the middle ear
c. Infections such as meningitis
d. Head or brain injuries
Ways to treat hearing loss
If you suspect that you or your loved one(s) may be suffering from hearing loss, the first step toward treatment should be to consult an audiologist to carry out hearing tests to see if this is so. If the audiologist in his or her findings confirms that there is in fact hearing loss, he or she will be able to recommend the necessary treatment to remedy the same.
The recommended treatment will depend on the severity of the hearing loss. For example, addressing the problem may be as simple as getting appropriate hearing aids and/or therapy. On the other hand, it may be as serious as recommended surgery and prolonged therapy. If you are suffering from Tinnitus (ringing of the ears), there may be natural products that can relieve your symptoms. Whatever is needed, your audiologist will let you know. In the event that there is in fact no hearing loss, simply continue to protect your hearing by staying healthy (avoiding infections as best as possible), wear protective gear like helmets when engaging in certain activities, and do not listen to music at deafening decibels. If you work in a factory that uses noisy, heavy machinery, be sure to use a good pair of earplugs.