To fully understand hearing loss, it's useful to understand how you hear and what decibels are safe. Our ears are made up of three major areas - the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. Sound waves go through the outer ear and cause vibrations at the eardrum, which in turn amplifies these vibrations down to the inner ear. The vibrations go through fluid in a snail-shaped structure of the inner ear - the cochlea.
Attached to the nerve cells in the inner ear there are thousands of small hairs that assist in translating sound vibrations into electrical signals which are then sent to the brain. This is when your brain switches them into sound.
It is also important to understand what sound levels are safe and what levels are considered to be risking permanent future damage to your hearing - if exposed to them for a long duration of time. Therefore, the louder the noise, the less time it takes to cause permanent hearing damage. In general terms, anything over 75dB is considered high risk. Here are a few examples:
There are many common causes of hearing loss. You can get hearing loss after an ear infection, ear fungus or an abnormal bone growth or tumours in the outer or middle ear. Any of these can cause hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is usually temporary and decreases in severity after diagnosis and treatment. Your doctor might treat your ear infection with a course of antibiotics, which should eventually assist in getting your hearing back to normal. Sometimes people are prone to getting ear infections, and in this case, doctors might insert a tube in your eardrum and drain out any fluid.
If you expose your ears to loud noises for a prolonged period of time it can damage the cells in your inner ear. This long-term damage can also be caused by short, sudden or sharp bursts of noise and is called noise induced hearing loss.
When we age the tiny hairs and nerve cells can get damaged over time in the cochlea or inner ear. This deflects the sound signals to the brain. If these hairs or nerve cells are damaged or missing - the electrical sounds can't be transmitted properly, causing hearing loss. This results in the inability to hear higher-pitched tones and these sounds may become muffled. You will also find a conversation in noise very difficult to understand. This type of hearing loss is called Presbycusis.
One of the most common forms of hearing loss is ageing or ‘presbycusis’ – which is the lessening ability or inability to hear high frequency sounds. This is called a high frequency hearing loss.
Genetic hearing loss is when your genetic makeup may dictate that you are more at risk of getting ear damage or sound deterioration over time due to heredity issues. Genetic factors cause some people to be more susceptible to hearing loss than others. This is because their genes make them more vulnerable to hearing loss - either through age, noise, medication or infections. Studies have shown that around 35-55% of hearing loss is caused by age and genetics combined.
Let us explain - everyone has genes existing in two copies passed down from their mother and father. The risk of hearing loss usually depends on whether a mutation is dominant or recessive. A dominant mutation causes hearing loss if only one of the inherited copies from the parent is damaged. A recessive mutation only causes hearing loss if both copies are damaged.
A gradual buildup of earwax can cause hearing loss. If not treated and removed it blocks the ear canal and prevents the conduction of sound waves. Earwax removal or micro-suction can help restore your hearing safely and painlessly.
While earwax is important for hearing health, a common problem is too much earwax in the ear canal. In the UK, it is estimated that 2.3 million people have issues with excessive earwax each year. Earwax removal is the most widespread ENT procedure performed in primary care.
A ruptured eardrum, also known as a Tympanic Membrane Perforation, is when loud spurts of sound, sudden changes in air pressure or an infection can cause your eardrum to rupture and affect your hearing.
There are a few types of medications that can potentially damage the inner ear or cause tinnitus and temporary hearing loss. There are also some illnesses or diseases that result in a high fever and can do harm to the cochlea.
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