If you find yourself asking people to repeat themselves or turning up the TV on a regular basis, it is likely you are experiencing some level of hearing loss. And it’s also likely that you are feeling frustrated by this situation. We understand that it is discouraging to feel as if you never quite catch everything that is going on around you. You feel left out and confused.
But it doesn’t have to continue that way. Let’s look at what is going on when hearing loss occurs and how to make positive changes.
The Mechanics of Hearing
Before we examine the causes of hearing loss and its treatment options, we need a basic understanding of how our hearing works when everything is functioning correctly.
Although the ear looks quite basic and simple, it is a very complicated and precise system. The ear consists of the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear.
- Outer ear: This includes the pinna (the part we see), the ear canal, and the eardrum.
- Middle ear: This includes the tiny hammer, anvil, and stirrup bones, as well as the eardrum.
- Inner ear: This includes the vestibule, the cochlea, and the semicircular canals.
When our hearing is working properly, sound waves travel into the ear by the pinna or auricle. The waves travel through the ear canal and make the eardrum vibrate. The vibration causes the tiny bones (ossicles) move in a way that they strike the thin membrane between the middle and inner ears.
In turn, the vibration of the membrane causes the fluid in the cochlea to move, causing the tiny hairs in the cochlea to sway. This movement then creates a response in the auditory nerve to send a signal to the brain.
What Happened to My Hearing?
If there is a problem with any part of the ear, your hearing may be compromised. Hearing loss can happen for a variety of reasons and in a variety of circumstances. It may occur suddenly, as in an accident, or it may develop slowly during the aging process. The two primary types of hearing loss are conductive and sensorineural. Each type has different causes within the group, and each one will require a different method of treatment.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss is what happens when something stops the sound waves from reaching your inner ear. It could be:
- Ear wax
- Fluid/ear infection
- Punctured eardrum
This type of hearing loss typically can be addressed and reversed by your medical practitioner, but don’t wait to get it handled. If you delay too long, it could turn into a situation that is not reversible.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
This situation is more significant than conductive loss and is usually permanent. The key to sensorineural hearing loss is in the hairs in the cochlea. When these hairs, or cilia, are damaged, hearing loss begins.
We start life with roughly 15,000 of these hair cells in each ear, and these little guys are powerful. Over time, with age, the cilia may get bent or broken, and this damage causes hearing to diminish. Some of the harm comes naturally over a long lifespan. Some problems happen suddenly. Either way, this damage is not reversible.
Interestingly, other vertebrate groups are able to regenerate the hair cells in their ears. Birds, frogs, and fish all can recover from hearing loss. Mammals, however, cannot. Scientists are researching ways to mimic other animal groups, but in the meantime, we need to do all we can to protect our hearing.
Isn’t Hearing Loss Just Part of Growing Old?
To some extent, yes, hearing loss is typical during the aging process. In fact, age-related hearing loss has its own name: presbycusis. Just as other body parts sustain wear and tear over the years, so, too, do our ears. However, significant hearing loss that dramatically impacts your quality of life does not have to be the norm.
The following tips and suggestions can extend your ears’ years of service so you can fully enjoy your world and community around you:
- Ditch the earbuds. Earbuds are one of the modern world’s top culprits when it comes to hearing loss. If someone sitting next to you can hear your music, then you have the volume set too high. Recently, teens are reporting hearing loss at significantly higher rates than in the 1980s and 1990s. The hearing loss they incur now is permanent, and that leaves them with a lot of years with compromised hearing.
- Try using headphones instead, as they have been shown to cause less hearing damage. However, the key is in decibel level and duration. Earbuds and headphones will both lead to hearing loss if the sound is too high or if it goes on for too long. Decibel levels under 85 are generally safe, but many devices have outputs of up to 120 decibels or more.
- Wear ear protection when working around loud machinery. Again, this goes back to the decibel level and duration component. Sounds that are too loud will damage the hairs in your ears, starting you on the road to hearing loss. Wear good-quality ear protection when working around high decibels, even if it’s only for a short time.
- Seek medical attention promptly. At the first signs of hearing damage, make an appointment with your doctor. It may be something easily remedied, like impacted ear wax. But left untreated, even simple problems can lead to hearing loss, so don’t let it go on without help. And if it is not reversible, your doctor can at least connect you with an audiologist to help determine the best course of action to minimize any further damage.
We Can Help
When it comes to your hearing, it’s not all doom and gloom. Aging does not have to equal hearing loss. You now have the know-how to protect your ears from further damage, and you have an ally right here in Chambers Hearing Centers. From hearing screenings to hearing aids, we are on your team to help you have the quality of life you deserve. Give us a call today, and we’ll be glad to join you on your health journey.