Hearing loss is a common health condition that affects more than 48 million Americans in the United States. Despite the fact that some of us have ears and have the ability to hear, many do not have a real understanding of the human ear and how it works. To understand hearing and hearing loss, it helps to know the basics. Having a basic understanding of the function of the ears can help you better collaborate with your physician, and can lead to better hearing solutions.
There are standard, fundamental questions about hearing loss that many people ask or wonder about. To help educate others about the basics of hearing loss, here are some of the most common questions and their answers.
1. What is the Mechanics of Hearing?
Your ear is divided into three parts, the inner, middle and outer ear. The inner ear contains semi-circular canals for balance, as well as the cochlea. The Eustachian tubes and the stapes, the malleus, and the incus reside within the middle ear. The outer ear consists of the eardrum, the external ear canal, and the pinna (the outer and visible part of the ear). When sound waves reach the pinna, it enters the outer ear canal and strikes the eardrum, causing the eardrum to vibrate. The vibrations cause the sound to move through the bones of the middle ear and then to the cochlea. The cochlea transmits sound through the auditory nerve to the brain, where it can be processed.
2. How Does Hearing Loss Occur?
Diminished or a loss of hearing can be caused by a variety of factors. Some of the common reasons for hearing loss include wax impactions, blockages, the aging process and genetics. Some individuals may be prone to hereditary problems, physical deformities, and/or congenital disabilities. Damage can also occur to the inner ear due to a traumatic injury, noise exposure (prolonged and/or sudden loud noise exposure), or from fluid accumulation. In certain cases, medications can also affect the function of the ear.
3. Will My Hearing Get Worse in Time?
There is no correct answer for this since predictions cannot be made. There are too many variables and factors in this equation. This will come down to the individual. Results will vary depending on what happens to the ear during a person’s lifetime. How a person cares for their ears is another variable. In addition, having routine checkups and hearing evaluations is highly recommended. This way your test results are noted and monitored. If your hearing has changed, the test results will reveal this. Hearing loss, if caught early, is easier to manage, so it is important to stay on top of your health.
4. What Kind of Impact Does Hearing Loss Have on a Person’s Life?
Often, it’s once you lose something that you then realize what you had. It’s not uncommon for people to take their bodily functions for granted, but losing your hearing can significantly affect a person’s quality of life. Hearing loss can make a person withdrawn, anxious, and depressed. Also, hearing loss can make one feel “alone” and can even put that person in danger of injury or death. Luckily, there is help for hearing loss for those who seek it.
5. What Can I Do to Protect My Hearing?
The best way to prevent hearing loss is to be proactive about your ears, keep them protected, and see your doctor for annual checkups. While you can’t prevent age-related hearing, hearing loss that is noise-induced is 100% preventable. To protect your ears from loud noise, avoid loud noises where you can and make sure you wear ear protection every time you are exposed to sounds that are at or above 85 decibels in loudness. Remember, preventive medicine is the best medicine.