What Is Hearing Loss?
What is Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss is the inability to hear certain sounds. Hearing loss can be more noticeable for some people in the low tones and for others in the high tones. The loss can range from mild to profound and it can be permanent or temporary.
For many people, hearing loss is gradual and does not cause pain. It is not uncommon for a person to be unaware of the severity of his or her loss. Many times family and friends notice the loss first. Many people generally associate hearing loss with aging and though your chances of losing hearing with age is common, it is not the only reason. A large percentage of people have had their hearing damaged by music, machinery, artillery, traffic, televisions, and many other everyday noises. Hearing loss can also be caused by injury, infection, and even medications. Many young people fall into these categories, thus surprisingly hearing loss truly affects all of us.
How common is hearing loss and whom does it affect?
Here are some general guidelines regarding the incidence of hearing loss according to the Better Hearing Institute:
- 3 in 10 people over age 60 have hearing loss
- 1 in 6 baby boomers (ages 41-59), or 14.6%, have a hearing problem
- 1 in 14 Generation Xers (ages 29-40), or 7.4%, already have hearing loss
- At least 1.4 million children (18 or younger) have hearing problems
- It is estimated that 3 in 1,000 infants are born with serious to profound hearing loss
- An interesting fact about hearing loss
Hearing loss can go unnoticed for a long time because of our brain. As our loss begins to increase, our brain simply adjusts to the fact that there is a weaker signal coming from our ears. This would be why our hearing may still seem right to us even with the prevalence of some loss. Eventually, our brain actually forgets how to hear because it does not remember how the words sound. When this happens, it becomes more difficult re-learn to hear.
On average, people with hearing loss wait almost 10 years before they do something about it. Too few people make a timely decision to take active steps to recover their hearing and increase their quality of life.
How Hearing Works
The Outer Ear
The part of the outer ear that we see is called the pinna, or auricle. The pinna provides a natural boost for sounds in the 2000 to 3000 Hz frequency range. The ear canal, also called the external auditory meatus, is the other important outer ear landmark. The ear canal is lined with only a few layers of skin and it is a highly vascularized area. This means that there is an abundant flow of blood to the ear canal.
The Middle Ear
The eardrum, or tympanic membrane (abbreviated TM) is the dividing line between the outer and middle ears. The ossicles are the three tiny bones of the middle ear that are fully developed at birth. They serve as a mechanical link between the tympanic membrane and the inner ear. The Eustachian tube is the middle ear’s air pressure equalizing system. The middle ear is encased in bone and does not communicate with the outside atmosphere except through the Eustachian tube.
The Inner Ear
The inner ear is a series of channels and chambers embedded deep within the temporal bone. The inner ear is called the cochlea. The cochlea transduces (changes from one form to another) the mechanical stimulus of sound, via the tympanic membrane and the ossicular chain, into a sequence of electrical discharges that is the language of the auditory nervous system.