Understanding your hearing
There are approximately 11 million people in the UK with a hearing impairment; roughly 1 in 6 adults. Hearing loss can have a significant effect on day-to-day life, making everyday tasks more challenging and tiring. It may lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. We now know that hearing is linked with our cognitive and emotional health and so it is more important than ever to understand and monitor our hearing.
Your ear – a simple explanation of how we hear
When a sound is produced vibrations travel through the air and enter the ear canal. The external part of the ear on the outside of the head known as the pinna helps to funnel sound vibrations and allow an individual to locate the direction from where they have originated. These vibrations travel along the ear canal and hit the eardrum.
The eardrum is a thin airtight membrane that transfers vibrations into the middle-ear cavity. The sound has now changed into mechanical energy that travels from the eardrum along the middle-ear bones and into the inner ear.
The hearing organ within the inner ear is referred to as the cochlea, a spiral shaped tube filled with fluid. Running throughout the cochlea are rows of microscopic hair cells called stereocilia. As vibrations hit the cochlea, the fluid inside moves which then causes certain areas of stereocilia to release molecules which then trigger electrical signals. These signals are then relayed along the auditory nerve to the hearing centres of the brain to be processed.
Causes of hearing loss
There are many potential causes of hearing loss that affect different parts of the ear (highlighted in the image below):
- one of the most common causes of hearing loss is the presence of occluding earwax which can be removed using microsuction.
- infections of the outer ear may cause swelling and the accumulation of discharge, leading to hearing loss. These can be treated with a combination of microsuction and medication if required.
A number of pathologies can cause a reduction in the transfer of sound vibrations (conductive hearing loss) through the middle-ear and therefore hearing loss:
- Damage to the eardrum for example through noise exposure, physical trauma, infection etc.
- A build-up of fluid against the eardrum and middle-ear bones
- Damage/abnormality of the middle-ear bones
- An incorrect middle-ear pressure due to a dysfunctional eustachian tube
Middle-ear problems can often be treated with medication and/or surgery but if this is not possible, hearing aids can often compensate for the loss of hearing.
Hearing loss within the inner ear is caused through deterioration of the sensory cells and their neural connections within the organ of hearing. This is referred to as sensorineural hearing loss and in most cases is permanent. Sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by:
- inner ear infection
- vascular incidents such as stroke
- congenital hearing loss (infections, premature birth, rubella)
- noise exposure
- ototoxic drugs such as certain aminoglycoside antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs
- physical trauma to the head
- certain balance disorders such as Meniere’s Disease
- an abnormal growth on the hearing/balance nerve (benign, rare)
Your hearing test
A hearing test result is plotted on a graph called an audiogram (see image below). The frequency or pitch of the tone is represented along the horizontal x axis and the intensity of the tone along the vertical y axis. The audiogram therefore shows how loud a tone has to be presented at a particular frequency in order for the test subject to hear it. In the example audiogram below we can see how the subject has normal hearing thresholds at the lower frequencies but a mild to moderate hearing loss at the mid to high frequencies.
At CEDA Healthcare we are here to help with any concerns regarding your ears and hearing. With us you have access to a variety of health professionals resulting in swift and effective treatment. Our GPs also have direct connections with private ENT consultants for further investigations if required. Call us now to book your hearing consultation on 01932 344004.
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