hearing and hearing loss

All about Hearing

How do we hear?

Hearing involves much more than just our ears, it involves our brain too. The process of hearing begins with sound waves travelling from the outer ear through the ear canal. These sound waves vibrate the eardrum, which in turn vibrates the bones of the middle ear. This movement causes waves in the fluid of the cochlea (inner ear). The hair cells in the cochlea move and bend, which stimulates the auditory nerve. These impulses then travel to the brain for us to hear what we understand as ‘sound’.

What causes hearing loss?

Hearing loss can be caused by a range of many different factors. We often associate hearing loss with the normal – but sometimes undesirable – reality of getting old. This is not always the case. Hearing loss can also be due to injury, infection, noise exposure or defects at birth.

Types of hearing loss

There are three types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural or mixed hearing loss, which is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.

Conductive hearing loss is caused by problems in the outer and middle ear. These problems prevent sounds getting through to the inner ear. The most common problems can be a build-up of wax in the ear canal, perforated eardrums, fluid/infection in the middle ear or, damaged middle ear ossicles.

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the nerve fibres in the inner ear become damaged. They stop transmitting the sound to the nerve and brain. Two of the most common types of sensorineural hearing loss are:

Age-related hearing loss. As we get older, we may lose our ability to hear certain sounds – especially soft sounds or high-pitched sounds. This, in turn, affects our ability to hear speech.

Noise-induced hearing loss. This is caused by over-exposure to excessively loud noise – machinery noise, loud music or aircraft noise for example.

Seeing the signs

When you – or someone you love – experience hearing loss, it doesn’t generally happen overnight, unless it is as a result of sudden injury or an accident. More often than not, hearing loss “creeps up” on people so slowly that they are unaware of the problem. Often, they’re the last to know: it’s generally family, friends and co-workers who identify the problem sooner than the patient himself. Have you found yourself complaining that someone isn’t listening? Or are you perhaps that someone? Do you find yourself needing to have things repeated? Do you find that the TV is constantly “too loud”? Or that everyone around you speaks too softly? If you or someone you love is experiencing something similar, it might be time for a professional diagnosis.

There might be some degree of hearing loss at play. Besides, people have their eyes and ears checked regularly, so why not check your hearing too? If you allow a hearing loss to go untreated in yourself or someone close to you, your quality of life can be affected. Left untreated, this can lead to social and emotional isolation; a person with hearing loss may find that they miss out on conversation in family gatherings, don’t get the punch-line of jokes, mishear what people are saying, etc. This in turn can breed impatience: family and friends don’t necessarily understand how hearing loss works and they can become irritable with the hard-of-hearing person.

Getting a proper medical assessment is crucial. This may or may not result in the need for the use of hearing aids. If it does, rest assured: hearing aids can play a life-changing role in making you feel yourself again and ultimately, in bridging the gap in the communication breakdown you might be feeling in relation to those in your life.

More about hearing and hearing loss

For most people, hearing is one of the most important senses we have. Hearing enables us to make sense of the world around us, to function in relation to others on a daily basis and to be safe. Our work, our personal life, our very wellbeing are intricately connected to our ability to hear; hearing is a human need.

Deprived of it, we feel physically affected and disconnected from the people around us. And when these people are our loved ones, we feel that disconnect even more. Impaired hearing can impact our physical, social and emotional well-being. This is why we take seriously what we, as audiologists, do.

Visiting your audiologist

If you think you or someone close to you has a hearing loss, then visiting your audiologist is the next step. A visit to your audiologist will give you an idea of the extent of your hearing loss and where the problem may lie. You might have some reservations. This is normal.

During that session, the audiologist will ask you some questions about your family and medical history, conduct a few tests and will be able to tell you where and what the problem is. She will then suggest some ways of addressing the problem – whether it be a referral to a doctor or a healthcare practitioner, the use of hearing aids or just an annual test to monitor your hearing.

Taking this step is literally a step towards a better life. And we are here to take it with you.