About 12 percent of the U.S. population have what is considered significant hearing loss. This amounts to about 38 million people. This number is higher when you consider the number of people who have any form of hearing loss. So, what exactly is hearing loss? By definition, hearing loss refers to any impairment in the hearing process. Hearing loss can range from mild to severe, and there are many forms of hearing loss, some of which can be treated medically or with amplification devices such as hearing aids, and others are more serious. To understand exactly what hearing loss is and why it happens, it helps to have a basic understanding of how we hear.
How Hearing Works
Our ears are made up of many parts that must work together to process the sounds we hear. The human ear is made up of three basic sections. The outer ear is the part you can see. This part of the ear picks up sound waves. These sound waves move to the middle ear. The eardrum, located in the middle ear, vibrates when these sound waves pass. These vibrations are passed onto three tiny bones. These bones, the hammer, anvil and stirrup, help move sound along so that sound can be further processed. These vibrations travel to the cochlea, found in the inner ear. This part of the ear is lined with cells and filled with liquid. The vibrations from sound make tiny hairs on these cells move. Some of these cells amplify sound and others fine tune it. The inner cells send the information along to the brain, completing the hearing process.
Types of Hearing Loss
There are four basic types of hearing loss: neural, conductive, sensory and a mix of conductive and sensory.
• Neural – This is the least common type of hearing problem. This type of hearing loss results from damage to the nerve that carries sound from the inner ear to the brain. If you have this type of hearing loss, you have trouble distinguishing one sound from another, making it difficult to understand a full conversation. Testing is required to pinpoint the exact cause of this type of hearing loss to determine a possible treatment. This is the most serious form of hearing loss since it may be caused by other conditions.
• Conductive – This type of hearing loss occurs when there is a problem with the middle or outer ear. This type of hearing loss is usually temporary and can be treated with medical treatment.
• Sensory – This type of hearing loss occurs when the cochlea is not functioning properly or the tiny hairs are damaged. Sound may be muffled or you may be able to hear in quiet situations, but not so well in crowds. This type of hearing loss tends to be permanent.
• Conductive and Sensory – This type of hearing loss is the most common. It is a combination of middle, outer ear and inner ear problems with the cochlea. Medical treatment or use of a hearing aid, such as a Silver Sonic Personal Sound Amplifier, may help aid this type of hearing loss.
Causes of Hearing Loss
There are many causes of hearing loss. You may be born with some form of hearing loss or impairment or it may develop later in life due to a degenerative condition or illness. Certain injuries may result in sudden hearing loss. Additional causes of hearing loss may include:
• Head injury
• Infections such as meningitis
• Middle ear fluid
• Prolonged exposure to loud music, especially while using headphones
• Prolonged or repeated exposure to loud sounds such as machinery or loud environments
Preventing Hearing Loss
Studies show that hearing loss is affecting young people just as much as it does older people. This is due to exposure to loud environments or music through headphones. While some forms of hearing loss cannot be prevented due to how they are caused, hearing loss caused by exposure can be prevented. Some ways to prevent hearing loss:
• Limit exposure to loud noises or use protective ear wear if exposure is unavoidable.
• Use earplugs when exposed to fireworks, firearms, jet skies, lawn mowers and other loud noises.
• If using headphones, reduce the volume or use a volume control feature to limit exposure to full sound.
• Don’t use cotton swabs to clean your ear canal. Even swabs with heavy cotton may be dangerous. You may push earwax further down the ear canal. This earwax can accumulate and result in hearing loss. It is best to have your doctor clean your ears during your regular doctor’s visits.
There is no single cause of hearing loss. Some forms of hearing loss may be permanent, while others may respond to medical treatments. Avoid exposure to loud sounds, use earplugs and avoid using cotton swabs. Proper care of your ears is a big part of keeping your ears healthy and your hearing at peak performance.