Hearing loss can occur at any time to anyone. It can happen gradually or abruptly, and can be due to a large range of causes from ageing to infection. This guide will look at how we speak and hear sounds, the different types and causes of hearing lossConductive hearing loss and the treatments available.
Sound travels in waves, which are essentially vibrating molecules being pushed through the air. Our vocal cords are two sheets which are stretched and controlled by a set of muscles to create sound waves. When we speak, the muscles contract and create tension in the vocal cords, whilst the air we are exhaling carries the sound waves out. The reason we all speak differently is due to many factors, such as the different sizes of our vocal cords, the sound created by them is changed as it passes through the vocal tract and the fact that these sounds are changed in to words by our mouths, lips, teeth and tongues.
Our ears are developed to collect, amplify and transmit sounds and speech to the brain. The outer ear is shaped as it is due to the fact that it is like an antenna, created to pick up sound waves which are directed down the ear canal to the ear drum. Sounds coming in make faint vibrations on the ear drum, which must then be picked up by the middle ear, amplified and passed on to the inner ear. The amplified vibrations are then converted in to electrical signals which are passed on to the brain.
Types and Causes of Hearing Loss
Generally speaking there are two types of hearing loss that people can suffer from or a combination of the two together. The most common is sensorineural hearing loss and the other is conductive hearing loss, with the main difference between them being the physical location within the ear that is causing the problem.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound waves are physically blocked from entering the inner ear. The causes can include fluid in the middle ear, a build-up of wax in the ear canal, a punctured ear drum and irregular growth of the middle ear bones.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss arises when the auditory nerves, or the hair cells, of the inner ear are damaged. This damage can be caused by ageing, exposure to loud noises, head trauma, side effects from medicine or genetically.
Treatments for Hearing Loss
There are many treatments available, but these will depend on the type and severity of the hearing loss. For conductive hearing loss, some of the effects may only be temporary. Sometimes the treatment can be very easy, such as clearing the fluid or wax from the ear canal. There are a range of medicine, surgeries and hearing devices that can get the sound waves to the inner ear and restore hearing as much as possible.
With sensorineural hearing loss however, the damage to the auditory nerves is permanent and there are no ways of returning them to the working state. The only way to restore hearing successfully is by using hearing aids or cochlea implants.