Hearing Loss Explained

Understanding how we hear

To help you better understand why hearing loss occurs, you should first know how our hearing works. Hearing is one of the most important senses, often taken for granted because of its invisible characteristic.

The ear is divided into three parts; the Outer ear, Middle ear and the Inner ear. Sound waves are collected by the Outer ear and directed along the ear canal to the Eardrum. When the sound waves hit the Eardrum, this causes the three bones present in the air-filled chamber of the Middle Ear to vibrate. This vibration or mechanical energy is then converted into electrical energy in the fluid-filled Inner ear chamber, also known as the Cochlea. Thousands of microscopic hair cells present in the Cochlea are bent back and forth by the movement of the fluid, creating nerve impulses. These nerve impulses are passed to the hearing centres of the brain via the auditory nerve, which we eventually experience as every day environmental, music and speech sounds.

Types and causes of hearing loss

The three main classifications of hearing loss are Sensorineural, Conductive and Mixed hearing loss. Each of these categories of hearing loss have a variety of causes of which some examples are given below:

Sensorineural hearing loss

The common cause of this type of hearing loss is:

  • Age related
  • Long-term exposure to loud noises
  • Congenital deformities
  • Infection in the inner ear
  • Head injury

Conductive hearing loss

  • Excessive build-up of ear wax
  • Glue ear
  • Perforation of the Eardrum
  • Middle ear infections, especially common in children
  • Inflammation
  • A defective ear drum

Mixed hearing loss

This type of loss is a combination of both Sensorineural and Conductive hearing loss.

Signs and symptoms of hearing loss

  • Asking people to repeat themselves often (not accent/language related)
  • Blaming or accusing other people of not speaking clearly (mumbling).
  • Often needing to turn up the volume on your TV or radio to levels which are uncomfortably loud for other people, but adequate for you
  • Having difficulty hearing conversation on the telephone
  • Increased difficulty following conversation in groups such as family gatherings and consistently mishearing
  • Struggling to hear when background noise is present, such as in shops, restaurants or in public places.
  • Increasingly isolating oneself from gatherings due to feeling withdrawn, left out or embarrassed because you are consistently straining to hear

If you find that you or someone you know is experiencing any these symptoms, we highly recommended a full hearing assessment immediately.

Consequences of untreated hearing loss

There is extensive scientific evidence to suggest that untreated hearing loss can have a huge impact on individual’s quality of life, for example;

  • Social isolation
  • Loss of independence
  • Depression
  • Relationship stress
  • Increased risk of falls
  • Early retirement
  • Finical decline
  • Difficulty advocating for oneself
  • Increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia