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The ability to hear is essential to quality of life. When hearing is impaired, relationships, the ability to work, confidence in social situations and so much more can be negatively affected. The good news is that when hearing disorders are properly diagnosed, relief is possible and life can get better.
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The aural or hearing-sense is a complex and intricate process, with the three main sections of the ear working together to process sounds. These three sections are the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear.
The outer ear picks up the sound waves. The sound then moves through the outer ear canal toward the middle ear where the ear drum is located. When the sound waves hit the eardrum, they create a vibration, which in turn, move three tiny bones in the ear. These bones transport the sound to the inner ear. Once they arrive in the inner ear, the sound waves move to an area called the cochlea, which is filled with liquid and lined with cells that have thousands of tiny hairs on them. The vibrations make the tiny hairs move, and the hairs change the sound vibrations into nerve signals. The brain can then interpret the sound.
The aging process is the most common cause of hearing loss. But, it can also be caused by an illness, genetics, viruses or bacteria, heart conditions or stroke, head injuries, tumors, certain medications, prolonged exposure to loud noises or damage to the ear. Generally, hearing loss is classified as either a conductive hearing loss, or a sensorineural hearing loss.
A hearing loss is conductive when there is a problem with the ear canal, the eardrum and/or the three bones connected to the eardrum. Common reasons for this type of hearing loss are a plug of excess wax in the ear canal or fluid behind the eardrum. Medical treatment or surgery may be available for these and more complex forms of conductive hearing loss.
A hearing loss is sensorineural when it results from damage to the inner ear (cochlea) or auditory nerve, often as a result of the aging process and/or noise exposure. Sounds may be unclear and/or too soft. Sensitivity to loud sounds may occur. Medical or surgical intervention cannot correct most sensorineural hearing losses. However, hearing aids may help you reclaim some sounds that you are missing as a result of nerve deafness.
If you notice that you are not hearing as well as you used to, your first step should be to visit your physician or schedule an appointment with ENT and Allergy Specialists. Some hearing issues have medical causes that can be diagnosed and corrected. These could include ear pain, drainage, excess ear wax, dizziness, a sudden onset of hearing problems, or hearing loss in only one ear.
A hearing assessment from an audiologist may also be recommended. At ENT and Allergy Specialists, our audiology staff can assess your ability to hear pure tone sounds or understand words. The results can show the degree of hearing loss and help determine whether the loss is related to a conductive or sensorineural causes.
Depending on the cause of your hearing loss, your otolaryngologist or audiologist may recommend the use of a hearing aid. There are many different styles of hearing aids, and a wide range of prices. Learn more about hearing aids here.
Your ENT and Allergy specialist can also help you protect your ears from infections and damage. We can provide custom swim molds to help prevent water from entering the ear, and recommend ear protection for individuals who are exposed to loud noises on a regular basis.
How does the hearing sense work?
What can I do to improve my hearing?
Tips to maintain hearing health
You may have hearing loss and not even be aware of it. People of all ages experience gradual hearing loss, often due to the natural aging process or long exposure to loud noise. Other causes of hearing loss include viruses or bacteria, heart conditions or stroke, head injuries, tumors and certain medications. Treatment for hearing loss will depend on your diagnosis.
The aural or hearing-sense is a complex and intricate process. The ear is made up of three sections: the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. These parts work together so you can hear and process sounds. The outer ear, or pinna (the part you can see), picks up sound waves and the waves then travel through the outer ear canal.
When the sound waves hit the eardrum in the middle ear, the eardrum starts to vibrate. When the eardrum vibrates, it moves three tiny bones in your ear. These bones are called the hammer (or malleus), anvil (or incus) and stirrup (or stapes). They help sound move along on its journey into the inner ear.
The vibrations then travel to the cochlea, which is filled with liquid and lined with cells that have thousands of tiny hairs on their surfaces. The sound vibrations make the tiny hairs move. The hairs then change the sound vibrations into nerve signals, so your brain can interpret the sound.
Answer the following questions then calculate your score. To calculate your score, give yourself 3 points for every “Almost always” answer, 2 points for every “Half the time” answer, 1 point for every “Occasionally” answer and 0 for every “Never.” Please note: If hearing loss runs in your family, add an additional 3 points to your overall score.
The American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery recommends the following:
0-5 points — Your hearing is fine. No action is required.
6-9 points — Suggest you see an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist.
10+ points — Strongly recommend you see an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist.
1. I have a problem hearing over the telephone.
2. I have trouble following the conversation when two or more people are talking at the same time.
3. People complain that I turn the TV volume too high.
4. I have to strain to understand conversations.
5. I miss hearing some common sounds like the phone or doorbell ring.
6. I have trouble hearing conversations in a noisy background, such as a party.
7. I get confused about where sounds come from.
8. I misunderstand some words in a sentence and need to ask people to repeat themselves.
9. I especially have trouble understanding the speech of women and children.
10. I have worked in noisy environments (such as assembly lines, construction sites, or near jet engines).
11. Many people I talk to seem to mumble, or don’t speak clearly.
12. People get annoyed because I misunderstand what they say.
13. I misunderstand what others are saying and make inappropriate responses.
14. I avoid social activities because I cannot hear well and fear I’ll make improper replies.
15. Ask a family member or friend to answer this question: Do you think this person has a hearing loss?
Eliminate or lower unnecessary noises around you.
Let friends and family know about your hearing loss and ask them to speak slowly and more clearly.
Ask people to face you when they are speaking to you, so you can watch their faces and see their expressions.
Utilize sound amplifying devices on phones.
Use personal listening systems to reduce background noise.
If you work in noisy places or commute to work in noisy traffic or construction, choose quiet leisure activities instead of noisy ones.
Develop the habit of wearing earplugs when you know you will be exposed to noise for a long time.
Earplugs quiet about 25 dB of sound and can mean the difference between a dangerous and a safe level of noise.
Try not to use several noisy machines at the same time.
Try to keep television sets, stereos and headsets low in volume.
Copyright 2010. American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery