If you have a hearing loss you might be wondering if, and how, you can regain your hearing. Some people experience an improvement in their hearing because an infection clears up, where others may not experience any improvement in their hearing because of a family history of hearing problems. In most cases, a hearing aid helps you to regain your ability to communicate better and ultimately regain the life you love. To better understand how that works, this article looks at how hearing works, what the causes and types of hearing loss are, and we provide some tips on how you can better protect your ears.
How does hearing work?
The hearing system and the process of sound traveling through the ear to the brain are like a symphony orchestra, complete with a conductor, string and wind instruments, the piano and percussion instruments. Every musician needs to play its individual part, in unity and harmony to perform a beautiful symphony.
The ear consists of three parts. Sound waves are picked up by the shell of the ear, they enter the ear canal and vibrate against the eardrum. This makes up the outer ear. The waves bounce off from the eardrum and travel through the three small bones (ossicles) in the middle ear, amplifying the sound waves further. From there, the sound enters the inner ear and specifically the hearing organ, the cochlea. Inside the cochlea are microscopic hair cells that pick up the vibrations sent via the ossicles. In turn, this acoustic energy is transferred into electrical impulses that the acoustic nerve sends to the brain to process.
For you to be able to hear, listen, understand, and communicate it is important that all three parts of the ear are intact.
What causes hearing loss?
Hearing loss can be caused by numerous factors. Normal conversation is measured at approximately 60 dB. If you are exposed to loud noise (85 dB and above) for an extended time period, your hearing can be damaged. Loud sounds exceeding 120 dB, can damage hearing instantly.
Loss of hearing can be a traumatic experience. You might struggle to hear your spouse talking, your grandchildren laughing or birds singing outside the bedroom window. You may feel excluded and cut off from social gatherings, not be able to participate in conversations, feel embarrassed to ask people to repeat what has been said, and then choose to isolate yourself further. This vicious cycle can be the root of depression and various mental difficulties.
The Types of Hearing Loss
- Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss. The damage occurs in the inner ear, specifically in the cochlea and to the auditory nerve. Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent and regrettably, there is no medicine or surgery that can regain your hearing. Damage to the hair cells in the cochlea and the auditory nerve cannot be repaired. The good news is that it can be treated with hearing aids and cochlear implants.
- A conductive hearing loss occurs when the outer or middle ear, or both, is compromised. In other words, the entrance of sound to the cochlea and brain is blocked. It may be difficult to hear soft sounds and louder sounds may sound unclear. Conductive hearing losses aren’t always permanent. Fortunately, with medical and surgical intervention, it may be reversed or repaired, depending on the cause of this hearing loss. Wax and foreign bodies can be removed. Infections are treated with antibiotics or grommets. Growths and tumors can be surgically removed. With structural abnormalities, there is a range of options, depending on the situation. Bone-anchored implantable devices, middle ear implants, or prosthetics can be offered as solutions, just to name a few. In many cases, a hearing aid can be used as a treatment option for a conductive hearing loss.
- Mixed hearing loss occurs when both a sensorineural hearing loss and a conductive hearing loss are present. Treatment of a mixed hearing loss will be recommended by your audiologist or doctor.
How to protect your ears
It is important to be aware of the environments you are exposed to, to protect your ears when in the presence of loud noise and to prioritize the care of your hearing. To protect your ears:
- Avoid exposing yourself to extremely loud environments.
- Wear earplugs or ear protection when in the presence of loud noises.
- Rest your ears. When in the presence of loud noise, your ears need time to recover, sit back, and enjoy the silence.
- Don’t use cotton buds to clean your ears. Ears are self-cleaning organs. Additionally, earwax is important for the health of your ears.
- Manage your stress levels. Anxiety and stress can be added contributors to temporary or permanent tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
- Test your hearing annually.