To state that hearing loss is widespread is a bit of an understatement. In the United States, 48 million individuals report some measure of hearing loss. This means, on average, for every five people you encounter, one will have hearing loss. And at the age of 65, it’s one out of three.
With odds like that, how can you avoid becoming one of those five?
To help you understand how to preserve healthier hearing all through your life, we’ll take a closer look at the causes and types of hearing loss in this week’s article.
How Normal Hearing Works
Hearing loss is the interruption of normal hearing, so a good place to begin is with a familiarity of how normal hearing is supposed to work.
You can picture normal hearing as comprised of three main processes:
- The physical and mechanical conduction of sound waves. Sound waves are created in the environment and propel through the air, like ripples in a lake, eventually making their way to the external ear, through the ear canal, and ultimately striking the eardrum. The vibrations from the eardrum are subsequently transferred to the middle ear bones, which then trigger the tiny nerve cells of the cochlea, the snail-shaped organ of the inner ear.
- The electrical conduction from the inner ear to the brain. The cochlea, once activated, converts the vibrations into electrical impulses that are transmitted to the brain via the auditory nerve.
- The perception of sound within the brain. The brain perceives the electrochemical signal as sound.
What’s fascinating is that what we perceive as sound is nothing more than sound waves, oscillations, electric current, and chemical reactions. It’s a fully physical process that leads to the emergence of perception.
The Three Ways Normal Hearing Can Be Disrupted
There are three main types of hearing loss, each disrupting some part of the normal hearing process:
- Conductive hearing loss
- Sensorineural hearing loss
- Mixed hearing loss (a mixture of conductive and sensorineural)
Let’s take a look at the first two, including the causes and treatment of each.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss disrupts the physical and mechanical conduction of sound waves to the inner ear and cochlea. This is attributed to anything that obstructs conduction.
Examples include malformations of the outer ear, foreign objects within the ear canal, fluid from ear infections, perforated eardrums, impacted earwax, and benign tumors, among other causes.
Treatment of conductive hearing loss consists of removing the obstruction, treating the infection, or surgical correction of the malformation of the outer ear, the eardrum, or the middle ear bones.
If you have conductive hearing loss, for instance from impacted earwax, you could begin hearing better instantly after a professional cleaning. With the exception of the more serious kinds of conductive hearing loss, this form can be the easiest to treat and can restore normal hearing entirely.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss disrupts the electrical conduction of sound from the inner ear to the brain. This is due to the damage to either the nerve cells within the cochlea or to the auditory nerve itself.
With sensorineural hearing loss, the brain is provided with weakened electrical signals, reducing the volume and quality of sound.
The principal causes of sensorineural hearing loss are:
- Genetic syndromes or fetal infections
- Typical aging (presbycusis)
- Infections and traumatic accidents
- Meniere’s disease
- Cancerous growths of the inner ear
- Side effects of medication
- Sudden exposure to extremely loud sounds
- Long-term subjection to loud sounds
Sensorineural hearing loss is frequently connected with direct exposure to loud sounds, and so can be protected against by staying away from those sounds or by safeguarding your hearing with earplugs.
This type of hearing loss is a bit more difficult to treat. There are no existing surgical or medical procedures to heal the nerve cells of the inner ear. However, hearing aids and cochlear implants are very effective at taking over the amplification duties of the nerve cells, bringing about the perception of louder, crisper sound.
The third type of hearing loss, mixed hearing loss, is basically some mixture of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, and is treated accordingly.
If you have any difficulties hearing, or if you have any ear discomfort or dizziness, it’s a good idea to pay a visit to your doctor or hearing professional right away. In virtually every instance of hearing loss, you’ll attain the best results the sooner you deal with the underlying issue.