Hearing Loss

FAQs about Hearing Loss

1.How do we Hear?

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Hearing occurs when sound waves reach the structures inside your ear, where the sound wave vibrations are converted into nerve signals that your brain recognizes as sound. Your ear consists of three major areas: the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear.

Sound waves pass through the outer ear and cause vibrations at the eardrum. The eardrum and three small bones of the middle ear — the hammer, anvil and stirrup — amplify the vibrations as they travel to the inner ear. There, the vibrations pass through fluid in the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure in the inner ear. Attached to nerve cells in the cochlea are thousands of tiny hairs that help translate sound vibrations into electrical signals that are transmitted to your brain.

The vibrations of different  sounds affect these tiny hairs in different ways, causing the nerve cells to send different signals to your brain. That’s how you distinguish one sound from another.

2. What causes Hearing Loss?

Tinnitus_man_blackFor some people, the cause of hearing loss is the result of a gradual buildup of earwax, which blocks the ear canal and prevents conduction of sound waves. Earwax blockage is a cause of hearing loss among people of all ages.

In most cases, however, hearing loss results from damage to the inner ear. Aging and prolonged exposure to loud noise may cause wear and tear on the hairs or nerve cells in the cochlea that send sound signals to the brain. When these hairs or nerve cells are damaged or missing, electrical signals aren’t transmitted as efficiently, and hearing loss occurs. Higher pitched tones may become muffled to you.

It may become difficult for you to pick out words against background noise. Heredity may make you more prone to these changes. Ear infection and abnormal bone growths or tumors of the outer or middle ear can cause hearing loss. A ruptured eardrum also may result in loss of hearing.

3. What are the Risk Factors?

Factors that may damage or lead to loss of the hairs and nerve cells in your inner ear include:

  •  Aging – Exposure to sounds over the years can damage the cells of your inner ear.
  • Heredity – Your genetic makeup may make you more susceptible to ear damage. ·
  • Occupational noises – Jobs where loud noise is a regular part of the working environment, such as farming, construction or factory work, can lead to damage inside your ear.
  • Recreational noises – Exposure to explosive noises, such as from firearms and fireworks, can cause immediate, permanent hearing loss. Other recreational activities with dangerously high noise levels include snowmobiling, motorcycling or listening to loud music. Personal music players such as MP3 players can cause lasting hearing loss if you turn the volume up high enough to mask the sound of other loud noises, such as a lawn mower.
  • Some medications – Drugs such as the antibiotic gentamicin and certain chemotherapy drugs can damage the inner ear. Temporary effects on your hearing — ringing in the ear (tinnitus) or hearing loss — can occur if you take very high doses of aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antimalarial drugs or loop diuretics.
  • Some illnesses – Diseases or illnesses that result in high fever, such as meningitis, may damage the cochlea.

4. How can I prevent Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss prevention consists of steps you can take to help you prevent noise-induced hearing loss and avoid worsening of age-related hearing loss:

  • Protect your ears in the workplace – Specially designed earmuffs that resemble earphones can protect your ears by bringing most loud sounds down to an acceptable level. Foam, pre-formed, or custom-molded earplugs made of plastic or rubber also can effectively protect your ears from damaging noise.
  • Have your hearing tested – Consider regular hearing tests if you work in a noisy environment. Regular testing of your ears can provide early detection of hearing loss. Knowing you’ve lost some hearing means you’re in a position to take steps to prevent further hearing loss.
  • Avoid recreational risks – Activities such as riding a snowmobile, hunting and listening to extremely loud music for long periods of time can damage your ears. Wearing hearing protectors or taking breaks from the noise during loud recreational activities can protect your ears. Turning down the volume when listening to music can help you avoid damage to your hearing.

Source: Mayo Clinic