How We Hear and Hearing Loss

Do you know how your ear works? Do you or someone you know seem to have difficulty hearing?
How We Hear
To understand how we hear, let’s quickly do something fun!
Put your palm a few inches from your mouth, facing you, and say out loud, “Hello! How are you today?!” Did you feel your breath slightly tickling your palm? That air is sound.

Your outer ear, called the pinna, collects sounds which are then transmitted down the ear canal. The sounds hit the ear drum causing movement, which, in turn, makes the three little bones in the middle ear - hammer, anvil and stirrup - sway back and forth. That action causes the nerve endings in the third part of the ear, the cochlear or inner ear, to become very excited. The electrical signals from the inner ear are transmitted down the hearing or auditory nerve to the brain for interpretation.
Untreated Hearing Loss
What happens if a hearing loss goes untreated? For young children, it may impact normal development of speech and language which ultimately could affect reading and overall learning. For adults, untreated hearing loss can impact:
  • Communication between family, friends and co-workers
  • Relationships, as poor communication may cause anger, frustration and stress
  • Earning power
  • Depression, anxiety or feelings of paranoia
  • Participation in social activities and feelings of isolation
  • Perception by others
Incidence of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss affects approximately 10 percent of the population in the United States, or about 31 million Americans. Although it is assumed that the majority of hearing loss occurs in older adults, most hearing lost occurs in individuals under 65. Some guidelines regarding the prevalence of hearing loss, according to the Better Hearing Institute are:
  • 3 in 10 people over age 60 have hearing loss
  • 1 in 6 baby boomers (ages 41-59), or 14.6%, have a hearing problem
  • 1 in 14 Generation Xers (ages 29-40), or 7.4%, already have hearing loss
  • At least 1.4 million children (18 or younger) have hearing problems
  • It is estimated that 3 in 1,000 infants are born with serious to profound hearing loss
Types of Hearing Loss
There are essentially three basic types of hearing loss:

Conductive: A conductive hearing loss occurs when sound cannot travel through the outer canal to the eardrum and the tiny bones (ossicles) of the middle ear. Possible causes of a conductive loss could be one of the following: fluid in the middle ear, infection in the ear canal, allergies, poor Eustachian tube function, perforated eardrum, a compacted cerumen, presence of a foreign body or an absence or malformation of the outer ear, ear canal or middle ear.

Sensorineural: A sensorineural hearing loss can be understood by its two components – sensory and neural. The sensory loss occurs when there is a dysfunction of the inner ear whereby the inner ear hair cells cannot adequately stimulate the hearing nerve. The neural component may involve severe damage to the inner ear resulting in degeneration of the hearing nerves or an inability of the hearing nerves to transmit information into the central auditory pathways in the brain. Possible causes of a sensorineural hearing loss could be one of the following: illness (i.e., diabetes), ototoxic drugs (i.e., chemotherapy), noise exposure (i.e., firecrackers) or head trauma. Some hearing loss is also attributable to genetics.

Mixed- A mixed hearing loss is essentially a hearing loss that involves a combination of both a conductive and sensorineural component.

Signs of Hearing Loss
What? Huh? These may not be words of inattention, but signs that someone may not be hearing you. If you answer yes to any of the following questions you may want to consider taking our online hearing screening.  (Please note this is not a replacement for a diagnostic hearing test by an audiologist.)
  • Difficulty having conversations over the phone
  • Difficulty having conversations when in the presence of noise
  • Difficulty understanding speech when in a group
  • Difficulty having one-on-one conversations
  • Asking people to repeat themselves
  • Must have visual cues or “see” the person who is speaking
  • Turning up the volume of the TV in order to hear
  • Inability to hear the doorbell or phone ring



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