How We Hear
Our ears are divided into three sections: the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. Each section moves and processes sound in its own way. The outer ear feeds sound through the ear canal to the eardrum, causing it to vibrate. These vibrations affect the three little bones inside the middle ear (malleus, incus, stapes), causing them to move. That movement travels into the fluid and tiny hairs of the inner ear (cochlea). These hairs convert movement into auditory signals, which are then transmitted to the brain to register sound.
Do I have hearing loss?
Hearing loss can be caused by many different things and manifest in unique ways.
- It can be sudden or gradual.
- It can occur in one ear or both ears.
- It can be temporary or permanent.
The truth is that hearing loss happens to people of all ages and is associated with the aging process. Before discussing causes and treatments for hearing loss, it is important to understand how hearing works.
Causes of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss occurs when sound is blocked in any of the three areas of the ear. One of the most common causes of hearing loss is exposure to loud noises. However, infections, both of the ear or elsewhere in the body, can also cause hearing loss.
- Hearing Loss In the Outer Ear: Earwax build-up, infections and swelling, a growth in the ear canal, injury, or birth defects.
- Hearing Loss In the Middle Ear: Fluid build-up as well as tumors (both benign and malignant).
- Hearing Loss In the Inner Ear: Aging diminishes hearing due to damage to the cochlea, vestibular labyrinth, or the acoustic nerve. Additionally, hearing loss can be caused by inner ear infections, Meniere’s disease, and other nerve-related problems.
Other causes of hearing loss include:
- Presbycusis: Age-related hearing loss.
- Heredity and Genetic Causes: There are a wide variety of diseases and syndromes that are either genetic or hereditary that can cause hearing loss. Some, like rubella (German measles) occur when a pregnant mother has the disease, which causes hearing loss in the baby. Other, rarer types of hereditary and genetic causes include CHARGE Syndrome, Connexin 26 disorder, Goldenhar Syndrome, Treacher Collins Syndrome, Usher Syndrome, Waardenburg Syndrome and otosclerosis (growth of spongy bone tissue in the middle ear).
Most causes of outer ear hearing loss can be remedied, but problems of the middle and inner ear can lead to permanent hearing loss. This is why it is important to seek medical attention quickly if you are experiencing a problem.