How Does Hearing Become Damaged?
It doesn’t come as a surprise that many things can cause damage to your hearing. As you age, your hearing won’t be as good as it once was, even then, there are factors along the way that can speed up your hearing loss.
Here at Attune, we’re your go-to hearing specialists, which is why we will be covering how hearing becomes damaged, the structure of the ear, how we hear and what can go wrong, the different types of hearing loss, and as well as some of the main things that can contribute to damaged hearing.
Structure of the ear
The ear is a very complex organ that is made up of many intricate parts. Put simply, it is composed of three main parts; the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. Each of these three parts house small and important structures involved in hearing.
The outer ear
The outer ear includes the pinna (external ear which is visible) and the ear canal.
The middle ear
The middle ear is made up of the eardrum (tympanic membrane), the Eustachian tube (a tube running from the middle ear to the back of the nose/throat), and the ossicles, which are the three smallest bones in the body (the malleus, incus, and stapes).
The inner ear
The inner ear includes the organs of hearing (cochlea) and balance. The cochlea is lined with thousands of little ‘hair cells’ which are very important to our hearing.
While these three main parts have been described individually, they must all work together for normal hearing to occur. Given the delicate nature of these structures, it is no wonder that things can go wrong and hearing becomes damaged.
How do we hear and what can go wrong?
The three parts that make up the ear work together for hearing to occur. They do so in the following way:
Sound waves in the air are captured by the external ear (pinna) and sent to the eardrum via the ear canal. The sound waves strike the eardrum which begins to move, and this then causes the ossicles to vibrate. The movement of the ossicles causes fluid in the cochlea (inner ear) to move, causing the hair cells in the cochlea to bend. Whenever these hair cells bend, an electrical impulse is generated and sent along the hearing nerve to the brain where it is perceived as sound.
A breakdown or issue in any of these parts can result in hearing loss and the type of hearing loss is dependent on the part of the ear the issue is in, e.g. the outer ear, the middle ear, or the inner ear.
If you are worried that your hearing has been damaged, the audiologists at Attune will perform a comprehensive hearing test to let you know whether or not your hearing is getting worse.
What are the different types of hearing loss?
There are three different types of hearing loss, and it all depends on which part of the ear the issue has arisen.
Conductive hearing loss
This occurs when there is damage to the outer or middle ear. For example, wax occlusion in the outer ear or a burst eardrum in the middle ear can cause hearing loss.
Sensorineural hearing loss
This occurs when there is damage to the inner ear. This can happen when hair cells become damaged due to loud noise exposure or certain medication.
Mixed hearing loss
This type of hearing loss happens when there is damage to either the outer or middle ear and the inner ear.
So, how does this damage occur?
Damage to the inner ear
A range of things can cause damage to the inner ear which houses the organs of hearing (cochlea) and balance. However, the small hair cells in the cochlea are the most affected. So, how can hearing be damaged by issues within the inner ear?
- Loud noise exposure
People who are exposed to an unsafe level of noise in the workplace (e.g. miners/builders) are at risk of damaging their hearing. Loud noises damage the fine hair cells in the inner ear and can result in permanent hearing loss. The high frequencies are damaged first as they are at the entry of the cochlea.
Even recreational noise exposure has the possibility of damaging your hearing in the same way by damaging the small hair cells.
As we age, there are many changes occurring within the body, and the ear is no different. With age, there is a general deterioration in cells and the little hair cells in the inner ear can become damaged or even die. This results in a permanent change in hearing as they cannot grow back. This damage occurs gradually over time and affects both ears equally.
- Certain medications
Certain medications such as cancer drugs, aspirin, and some antibiotics are known to be toxic to the hearing and balance systems.
- Certain illnesses
Much like certain medications, certain illnesses can also contribute to your hearing loss. Some viruses and meningitis can cause damage to the inner ear, resulting in loss of hearing.
Damage to the outer ear/middle ear
There are also a range of things that can damage the outer/middle ear, such as:
- Wax blockage
Large amounts of wax can block off the ear canal, reducing the level of sound reaching the eardrum, therefore affecting how well you hear.
- Foreign objects
Much like wax blockages, foregin objects in the ear can block the canal reducing the level of sound reaching the eardrum.
- Ear infection
Middle ear infections can cause a build up of fluid behind the eardrum, therefore reducing the efficiency of sound being sent along the pathway.
- Ruptured eardrum
A hole in the eardrum can also damage the hearing as the eardrum cannot vibrate efficiently and transmit sound further along the pathway.
Ways we can protect our hearing
Although we can’t avoid losing our hearing altogether, especially as we age. However, there are a few things that we can do to protect our hearing, such as:
- Avoid exposure to loud noises when you can.
- If you are concerned about the noise levels in your workplace, consult with the health and safety work officer.
- If you find yourself in a situation where you can’t avoid loud noises (such as a building site), always remember to wear earplugs or earmuffs.
- If you have any concerns about medications, discuss them with your doctor.
- If you start to experience any unusual symptoms after starting new medication, let your doctor know immediately.
- Vaccinate your children
- If you suddenly feel ill, seek treatment from your doctor.
Wrapping it up
Hearing is extremely important to our daily communication with others and the world around us. We must be aware of how our hearing can become damaged and ways we can prevent it.
If you feel your hearing has been damaged or just want to check to see if everything is okay, call the team at Attune to book a hearing test.