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Hearing Loss

How exactly does

hearing work?

The ear can capture many sounds: from low tones like the purring of a cat to high tones like the chirping of birds. Ears are an intricate combination of tissue, bones, nerves and cells. Sound is created through vibrations that travel through the air which are picked up and processed by the ear and the information is conveyed to the brain, almost instantly.

Sound waves are channelled by your outer ear down into your ear canal where they cause the eardrum to vibrate. Hearing truly begins in your middle ear, where three small bones (ossicles) link the eardrum to the cochlea. In your inner ear, the fluid filled cochlea carries on the vibrations to the hair cells which move within the fluid. This movement is interpreted by your auditory nerves and transferred as a nerve signal to the brain. Your brain then interprets those nerve signals into what you understand as sound.

What are the types

of hearing loss?

Hearing loss is grouped into two main types, depending on which system is affected – conductive and sensorineural. A mixed hearing loss is where both types are present.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss is caused by obstructions or malfunctions in the outer or middle ear, impeding the mechanical transfer of sound to the inner ear. It can be caused by blockages, such as impacted ear wax, or by disorders that stop the middle ear’s ability to transfer sound, such as middle ear infections, malfunctions or damaged ear drums. This kind of damage results in lowered sound intensity (loudness) as the sound that reaches the inner ear is less intense and is at a lower volume than the original. The ear generally works in a normal way, however, if the original sound is loud enough to overcome the limits of the blockage. Identifying and treating the cause of conductive hearing loss can result in a partial or complete improvement in hearing, with the use of hearing aids and devices to correct any remaining hearing loss.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve and can be split into two parts. The sensory part refers to damage to the hair cells or inner ear fluids. The neural part refers to damage or degeneration of the nerves that transmit sound signals. It can be caused by exposure to loud noise, diseases such as meningitis and the aging process. Supplementary tests, in addition to complete audiometric assessment, would identify whether it is the nerves or inner ear that are affected. This kind of hearing loss is usually considered to be permanent and irreversible. In addition to reduced sound intensity, there is an element of distortion so sounds seem unclear, even if they are loud enough. As this kind of hearing loss does not usually respond well to medical treatment, the main goal of intervention is the use of hearing aids to provide amplification.

Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing loss is a combination of the above types with conductive factor compounding an likely irreversible sensorineural hearing loss. The conductive loss may be responsive to treatment (such as clearing obstructions or treating a middle ear infection), but some degree of hearing loss is most likely to remain permanently. Hearing aids can be beneficial once the conductive aspect has been identified and treated.

How do I know what kind of loss I have?

If you suspect you may have hearing loss, it is important to seek proper testing and evaluation by a qualified hearing care professional. At the Hearing Place we can connect you with a qualified independent hearing professionals who can conduct a thorough examination and assessment to identify the type and level of hearing loss you have.

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