In the US, over 36 million adults are affected by hearing loss, ranging in severity from mild loss of hearing that limits the ability to hear certain high-pitched sounds to complete loss of hearing.
Understanding Your Hearing
There are three parts to the ear: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. Each part plays its own unique role in hearing.
Sound travels through each part of the ear and a problem at any point along this process can result in hearing loss. The actual type of hearing loss is determined by discovering which part of the ear is not functioning properly.
The outer ear
The outer ear includes the pinna, auditory canal, and eardrum. Sound is channeled into the middle ear via these structures. The pinna, or outermost visible part of the ear, gathers sound waves and directs them down the auditory canal toward the eardrum (tympanic membrane). The eardrum separates the outer ear and the middle ear.
The middle ear
The middle ear includes the three smallest bones of the human body, the ossicles (malleus, incus, and stapes). When sound reaches the eardrum, it vibrates. This causes vibration of the ossicles, which are structured like a lever to amplify sound. The sound is then mechanically transmitted into the inner ear (cochlea).
The inner ear
The inner ear converts the sound to an electrical nerve impulse. The movement of the ossicles causes pressure waves in the inner ear fluid that stimulate hair-like cells called cilia in the cochlea. The electrical impulse then travels along the auditory nerve to the brain.
Signs Of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss usually occurs very gradually over a period of years, making it difficult for you to notice. If you or someone you know experiences any of the symptoms listed below, it is important to consult a doctor of audiology to assess the situation and determine the best next steps. Early treatment is critical for the best possible results.
- Difficulty hearing or understanding others in the presence of background noise
- Ringing or roaring in the ears, especially in a quiet situation
- Hearing a person speak, but not fully understanding all of the words
- The need to frequently ask others to repeat themselves
- The feeling that others are mumbling when they are talking
- Avoidance of social settings and withdrawal from conversations
- The need to increase the volume of the radio or TV to a level that causes others to complain
- Difficulty talking on the telephone because the volume is not loud enough
Other reasons to to schedule an appointment with an audiologist
- Pain in the ear lasting for more than a day
- Sudden onset of hearing loss or a plugged ear
- Unexplained dizziness
- A sensation of pressure or fullness in your ears
- Chronic ear infections
- Delayed speech and language in children
- Family history of hearing loss
- Recent trauma to the ear
- Recent drainage from the ear