Our body is a complex mechanism made up of multiple organs, nerves, bones and muscles. Amongst this complexity lies the five senses of our body that help our body take in external information regarding our environment. Damage to any one of these throws the body off balance. Each of them plays a vital role. Loss of one of these causes other senses to heighten in order to make up for it in a manner. One of these senses is the ability to hear. Hearing is what enables us to recognize outer sounds. It enables us to have smooth conversations and connect with other people. It also equips us to recognize the danger around us. For example, the sound of horns when crossing a street. Listening to music is said to be one of the best ways to relieve stress and frustration. That is also enabled by our ability of hearing. Hearing enables us to enjoy and cherish little things like hearing a loved one's laughter, having deep and meaningful conversations or listening to the sound of nature.
Understanding Hearing Loss
Hearing loss that occurs with age is very common. However, hearing loss, whether partial or complete, can occur due to multiple other reasons while one is still young. The main causes of hearing loss include old age, loud noise, diseases and heredity. Our ears are made up of three parts- outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. Sound waves travel from the outer ear to the eardrum which makes the eardrum vibrate. The eardrum is a thin skin between your outer and middle ear. There are three bones in the middle ear known as the ossicles. The ossicles and the eardrum work together to increase the vibrations as the sound travels to the inner ear. The inner ear includes the cochlea. The cochlea is filled with fluid and a bunch of hair cells. These hair cells in the cochlea are attached to thousands of nerve endings. The sound travels through the fluid of the cochlea to the hair cells. The hair cells help convert the sound of wave vibrations into electrical signals that then travel to the brain and the brain interprets this electrical signal as sound. Different types of sound waves create different reactions in these hairs that signal different sounds to the brain. Damage to any of these parts of the ear can lead to partial or complete deafness in one or both ears.
There are three types of hearing loss namely, Conductive (includes outer and middle ear), Sensorineural (includes inner ear), and mixed. If one starts to experience the symptoms of hearing loss in one or both ears, they should immediately contact their doctor. Some of the symptoms of hearing loss include muffled speech and sound, trouble hearing consonants, asking one to constantly repeat what they are saying, increased volume of tv and music, difficulty understanding words with background noise, ringing in the ear, ear pain, and headache. These can be a sign of damage to the ear. But one cannot self determine the cause of hearing loss, whether partial or complete, in one ear or both. One needs to consult their doctor who will then check the hearing and ears; conduct some tests to determine the type and cause of hearing loss.
Conductive hearing loss is caused due to excess buildup of earwax or fluids, infection and eardrum puncture. This type of hearing loss is usually temporary and can be treated. The hearing loss can almost be completely reversed. The doctor would use a tool to remove the built-up wax or use suction. Loud noise or poking your ear can cause your eardrum to rupture. Damage done to the eardrum and damage to the fluid due to infections can be treated with certain small surgeries. If hearing loss is due to infection, the doctor may prescribe some antibiotics and the hearing should be back to normal in just a few days.
Sensorineural hearing loss is damage done to the inner ear. This type of hearing loss is usually permanent. This can be caused by many factors. Damage is done to the hair cells in the cochlea which partially or completely disrupt the way sound waves reach the brain. Ageing can be one of the causes of this damage. Extremely loud noises that cross 85 DB over an extended period of time also cause permanent damage to the ears. Other causes include infections like meningitis and mumps. Head trauma can also lead to permanent damage to the ear. Another factor includes certain medications. Many medicines are ototoxic, that is, damaging to the ear. The most common and useful treatment for this type of hearing loss is using hearing aids programmed to your unique hearing loss. If the hearing loss is very severe, many doctors suggest a cochlear implant.
In order to avoid permanent damage, there are certain precautions one can take like using their headphones with low volume, using earplugs in high sound events, regularly getting your ears checked and avoiding poking the inside of the ears with external objects. Hearing loss is not only damaging to one's hearing but also disrupts the everyday routine. Unable to hear can make one withdraw. It can also cause depression in some people. It causes a disconnect with other people making one feel isolated. Thus, it is important to not only take care of your ears and hearing but also get the right treatment if one is experiencing some deafness in either or both of their ears. Taking care of the hearing can help one lead a richer and happier life.
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(The article is contributed by Dr Dhiraj Gurvinder Singh, Senior ENT & Cochlear Implant Surgeon, Shalby Multispecialty Hospitals Mohali)