The importance of hearing
Hearing affects your quality of life. Hearing loss not only affects you, but it affects those around you, like your family. Hearing loss can cause loneliness, depression and unhappiness. Some people feel embarrassed that they cannot hear well, but it is better to tell your family and your doctor. Ask them to speak clearly and to face you when they are talking. Without treatment for hearing loss you may have problems with learning, speaking or at your workplace. Without treatment, hearing loss can be dangerous when you cannot hear alarms, sirens, phones or important announcements.
What is hearing loss?
People who have hearing loss cannot hear well or do not hear at all. Hearing loss can occur in one or both ears. Hearing loss can happen suddenly or slowly over time. Because hearing is often lost slowly, many people do not notice their hearing loss. They may learn of their hearing loss when family or friends notice or when a caregiver examines them. Hearing loss can occur at any age, but it is most common in people 60 years or older. Most people with hearing loss can be helped.
How the ear works
Your ears help you to hear and keep your balance. The ear is made up of three parts:
- The outer ear is made up of the part you see on the side of your head and the outer ear canal. The outer ear canal is also called the external auditory canal. The outer ear catches sound waves and sends them to the tympanic membrane, or eardrum. The eardrum is like a window that separates the outer ear from the middle ear.
- The middle ear sends sound waves from the outer ear to the inner ear. Sound strikes the eardrum and is sent through three bones of the middle ear to the inner ear.
- The inner ear is a fluid-filled pouch that is covered with bone. The cochlea is inside the inner ear and is the hearing organ. It contains many cells that can feel the fluid in the inner ear move. When the cells feel the fluid move, an impulse (or action) is started in the nervous system. The impulses travel through the hearing part of the nervous system and reach your brain
Types of hearing loss
- Conductive hearing loss: This is a problem with the outer or middle ear. With conductive hearing loss, sound waves cannot reach the inner ear very well. Sometimes this hearing loss can be treated by removing the cause. Examples of this are removing earwax or an object, or treating an ear infection with medicine. Conductive hearing loss is often helped with medicine or surgery.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: This is a problem with the inner ear. There may be problems with the nerve paths from the inner ear to the brain. There may be damage to parts of the inner ear. There is usually no cure for sensorineural hearing loss. Most people with this type of hearing loss must use hearing aids or other devices to hear better.
- Mixed hearing loss: With mixed hearing loss, a person has both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
- Central auditory processing disorder: This is a problem in the brain. Sounds go through the ears. Nerves take the sound signals from the ears to the brain. However, when the brain gets the sound signals, it does not understand or know how to handle them correctly.
Common causes of hearing loss
- Aging: Hearing loss caused by aging is called presbycusis.
- Blockage: The ear canal is blocked by an object, is full of earwax or is swollen.
- Certain medicines.
- Congenital problems: A baby may be born with this kind of hearing loss. This problem may be caused by the baby not getting enough oxygen while in his mother's uterus. Certain medicines or infections that the mother has during pregnancy may cause a congenital hearing loss. Infections such as herpes or rubella may also cause a child to have a hearing loss.
- Ear and head injury: You may have hearing loss because of a hole in your eardrum.
- Ear infections or fluid in the middle ear.
- Meniere's disease: This is a hearing problem in which fluid in the inner ear increases.
- Noise: You may have hearing loss because you have been around loud noises for long time periods.
- Tumors that grow on or near the middle or inner ear.
- Otosclerosis: With this problem, the small bones of the middle ear do not send sound normally.
Signs and symptoms of hearing loss
- You may ask others to repeat what they just said. You often think people are mumbling or they are not speaking clearly.
- Family members may ask you if your hearing is OK.
- You may cup your hand behind one of your ears when listening.
- You may need to have the radio or television louder than usual.
- You may need to lean forward or turn your head to be able to hear. You have a frown on your face as you try to hear.
- You may not understand what people are saying because you are not hearing clearly.
- You may have problems hearing people talk if there is loud background noise.
- You may have dizziness and ringing or buzzing in your ears.
- You may not want to be around others because you have a hard time hearing.
For more information about DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital’s audiology services or to make an appointment, call 313-966-4725.