How Can Hearing Become Damaged?
With the amount of technology, events and disruptive environments constantly happening around us, it doesn’t come as a surprise that many things can damage your hearing.
Although your hearing deteriorates as you age, many factors can also speed up your hearing loss.
Today we’re going to discuss how hearing becomes damaged, the types of hearing loss and the main things that can contribute to damaged hearing.
How do we Hear?
The ear is a complex organ made up of three main parts. Each of these parts must work together to allow us to hear.
- The outer ear includes the pinna (external ear) and the ear canal.
- The middle ear is made up of the eardrum, Eustachian tube and ossicles (malleus, incus and stapes), which are the smallest bones in the body.
- The inner ear includes the cochlea (hearing organ), which is lined with thousands of hair cells that are important for hearing.
How do we hear and what can go wrong?
The outer, middle and inner ear all work together for hearing to occur and do so in the following way:
The outer ear (pinna) captures sound waves in the ear and send them to the eardrum via the ear canal.
The sound waves touch the eardrum, which begins to move and causes the ossicles to vibrate. The movement of the ossicles causes fluid in the cochlea to move, enabling the hair cells in the cochlea to bend. Whenever the 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 problem in any of these parts of the ear can result in hearing loss. And the type of hearing loss depends on the part of the ear where the issue has arisen.
What Are the Three Types of Hearing Loss?
This type of hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the outer or middle ear. For example, a burst eardrum in the middle ear can cause hearing loss. Most of the time, conductive hearing loss is temporary.
This type of hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear. Damage to the inner ear happens when the hair cells in the cochlea become damaged due to loud noise exposure or particular medication. Since the hair cells cannot regenerate, hearing loss is permanent.
This type of hearing loss occurs when conductive and sensorineural hearing loss are both present in one ear.
How Does This Damage Occur?
Damage to the inner ear
The inner ear houses the hearing organ (cochlea) and balance system. However, when the hair cells in the cochlea are damaged, hearing loss occurs.
So, what can damage the inner ear?
1. Loud noise exposure
People exposed to an unsafe level of noise in the workplace or prolonged loud recreational noise are at risk of damaging their hearing.
The high frequencies are damaged first as they are at the entry of the cochlea.
Deterioration in hearing is a common part of ageing. The cells and hair cells in the inner ear can become damaged over time as they deteriorate or even die. If the hair cells die, the hearing loss is permanent as they cannot grow back.
3. Specific medications
Many medications, such as cancer drugs, aspirin and some antibiotics, are known to be toxic to the hearing and balance systems, which can result in hearing loss.
4. Certain illnesses
Like medications, certain illnesses can contribute to your hearing loss. Some viruses and meningitis can damage the inner ear and lead to hearing loss.
Damage to the outer and middle ear
There is also a range of things that can damage the outer and middle ear.
1. Wax build-up
If you have a build-up of wax in the ear canal, it can reduce the level of sound reaching the eardrum, affecting how well you hear.
2. Foreign objects
Similar to a build-up of wax, foreign objects in the ear, such as debris, can block the ear canal, causing hearing loss.
3. Ear infection
An infection in the middle ear can cause fluid build-up behind the eardrum. This can reduce the efficiency of sound being sent along the pathway.
4. Ruptured eardrum
A hole in your eardrum can damage your hearing as your eardrum cannot vibrate efficiently and transmit sound further along the pathway.
Ways to Protect Your Hearing
Although hearing deterioration is an inevitable part of life, especially as you age, there are a few things to do to protect your hearing, such as:
- Avoid loud noise exposure when you can.
- If you’re concerned about the noise level at your workplace, consult with the work health and safety officer.
- If you find yourself in a situation where you can’t avoid loud noise, remember to protect your ears by wearing earplugs or earmuffs.
- If you are concerned about your medications, speak to your doctor.
- If you experience any unusual symptoms after starting a new medication, inform your doctor immediately.
To Sum It Up
Hearing is an extremely important part of life as it enables you to communicate with loved ones, friends and those around you. However, although our hearing deteriorates as we age, many factors can speed up hearing loss.
There are many things you can do to protect your hearing, including listening to safe levels of music, wearing earplugs/earmuffs and being aware of the amount of time you spend in noisy environments.
If you think your hearing has been damaged and want to get it checked, book a comprehensive hearing test at your nearest Attune Hearing clinic. Your audiologist will explain your level of hearing loss and what you can do to manage it.
Book an appointment online or contact us on 1300 736 702 to start your journey towards better hearing health.