Would I notice my hearing loss?
Hearing loss often develops gradually and can go undetected for some time. It is common that the signs of your hearing difficulties are first detected by your family and friends.
Common signs of hearing loss
- Struggling to understand conversations, especially when there is background noise
- Thinking that people are mumbling or not speaking clearly
- Friends and family have complained that your television or radio is too loud
- Feeling anxious, irritable or exhausted from trying to hear
- Avoiding conversation and social interaction
The process of hearing includes both the ear and the brain. Sound vibrations travel through the ear and are changed along the way for the brain to translate the signal into meaningful information.
Each part of the ear plays an important role in your hearing. Hearing loss is the result of damage to one or multiple parts of the outer, middle or inner ear.
The outer part of your ear is called the pinna, which funnels sound waves into the ear canal. The sound travels through the ear canal to the ear drum.
When the sound reaches the eardrum, vibrations are sent through three small bones called the ossicles (malleus, incus, and stapes). The ossicles amplify the vibrations, changing the signal from air to mechanical to reach the cochlea.
The cochlea, which is fluid filled, contains tiny sensory hair cells. These hair cells move with the vibrations and create impulses which travel to the brain. The brain then interprets these impulses into meaningful information.
An audiogram is a graph of your hearing results that shows the level of hearing an individual has for each ear. The top of the graph has numbers ranging from 125 to 8000 representing frequencies or pitch and along the left shows numbers ranging from -10 to 120 representing volume. The softest levels within each frequency you hear are marked on the graph to show your hearing results.
In speech, the consonants are high-pitched treble sounds like s, f, th, ch, sh. With hearing loss these are hard to hear. Words that rhyme will be hard to distinguish from each other, and one is left guessing what might have been said. Think of the words like cat, fat, sat, hat, that. It is the high-pitched consonants at the beginning of the word that tell you what the words are and without hearing this meaningful information, the translation is lost.
Types of Hearing Loss
The three most common types of hearing loss:
A conductive hearing loss is a decrease in sound caused in the outer or middle ear. Possible causes may include, wax in the ear canal, a perforation in the eardrum, or fluid in the middle ear. This loss is usually treatable with medical intervention.
A sensorineural loss is a decrease in sound caused in the inner ear or along the nerve pathway between the inner ear and the brain. This type of loss may be caused by aging, infection, or noise exposure. This loss is usually permanent and hearing aids may be recommended.
A mixed loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural loss.