Have you ever suspected that you, or someone close to you, could be experiencing hearing loss? Oftentimes, diagnosing the loss of hearing is difficult,as it is usually gradual and elusive in nature. It is important then to first understand how we hear to truly comprehend how hearing loss manifests. We may then be better-equipped to identify the signs and symptoms of this widespread condition.
Understanding How We Hear
Our ears are made up of three main components through which sound waves pass. First, sound travels through the outer ear and reaches the eardrum, upon which vibrations are created. These vibrations continue into the middle ear where they are amplified by three small bones before finally entering the inner ear. Within the inner ear is a fluid-filled structure resembling the shell of a snail that we call the cochlea. Inside the cochlea are thousands of microscopic hairs attached to nerve cells that convert the incoming vibrations into electrical signals. Finally, these electrical signals are transmitted to the brain where they are processed into what we perceive as sound. Now that we have a basic understanding of the internal anatomy of the ear and the path that sound takes through it, we can understand how hearing loss occurs.
Potential Causes for Hearing Loss
Like any tool that is dulled, dirtied, and blunted over time, the mechanisms that facilitate our hearing can physically deteriorate in the same fashion. Blockages such as earwax build-up within the outer ear can prohibit sound wave conduction on the eardrum. Similarly, abnormal growths like bone spurs and tumors can also block the ear canal. Secretions from various infections are yet another source of blockage in the ears. Tympanic membrane perforation is the medical term for a ruptured eardrum.
The eardrum itself can be ruptured by extreme blasts of noise or sudden fluctuations in pressure. Perforation by sharp objects and certain infections can also cause the eardrum to rupture, all leading to the loss of hearing. Possibly the most vital component to sustain damage from age and loud noise is the inner ear. Deterioration of the tiny hairs or nerve cells within the cochlea inhibits the proper transfer of electrical signals to the brain. This results in the muffling of higher-pitched tones and makes it hard to discern speech from ambient sound.
Who Experiences Hearing Loss?
Although hearing loss affects a large portion of the population, not everyone is susceptible to it nor will they develop it. There are certain risk factors, however, that will leave some people more prone to contracting it than others. Age and heredity are the two unavoidable aspects that affect one’s susceptibility to cochlear damage and deterioration.
Other factors that contribute to hearing loss such as occupational noise (construction/factory/farming), and recreational noise (concerts/jet engines/firearms) can often be avoided by choice or by wearing proper hearing protection. Many illnesses and diseases marked by high fever can damage hearing as well. Meningitis, for example, is notorious for causing complete hearing loss. When it comes to medications, some may be avoidable unless they are required of a specific treatment regimen. Viagra, chemotherapy drugs, and antibiotics like gentamicin all contribute to inner ear damage. Viagra is not a requisite medication, whereas chemotherapy drugs and antibiotics might mean the difference between life and death for someone who abstains from them.
Recognizing the Signs
With the causes and associated risk factors of hearing loss in mind, we can now see some indicators of the prevalence or the development of this disease. Muffled words or noises and difficulty hearing consonants in speech are usually strong signals that a person’s hearing is deteriorating. It may be especially pronounced when trying to listen in a crowd or amidst background noise. Consequently, this will often have a direct impact on a person’s behavior. People who experience hearing loss will usually find themselves withdrawing from normal conversations and avoiding some social settings altogether. Turning up the volume on the TV or radio to abnormal levels and asking others to speak more loudly, slowly, or clearly are further indicators of hearing loss.
Treating Hearing Loss
Once you have determined if you might experience hearing loss, the question is always: “When should I take a hearing test?” If the loss of hearing was sudden and/or isolated to just one ear, you should immediately seek medical attention. On the other hand, as hearing loss is usually the gradual, inevitable result of aging, it is important to schedule an annual hearing test after the age of 50. That’s where we come in! Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing test if you’ve never had one or it’s been more than a year since your last one, and learn more about how to hear at your best.