Discover how to clear the way for better hearing.
Hearing begins when soundwaves enter the outer ear (the visible portion of the ear located on the outside of the head) and are channeled down the auditory canal, a tube-like passageway lined with tiny hairs and small glands that produce ear wax.
At the end of the auditory canal lies the middle ear, which is composed of the eardrum and three small bones, known as the hammer, the anvil and the stirrup. When soundwaves hit the eardrum, it vibrates and moves the hammer. The hammer moves the anvil, which moves the stirrup, transmitting the vibrations into the inner ear. The middle ear functions to amplify sound, which is why significant hearing loss can result from any disruption in any of its parts.
The inner ear consists of the cochlea and the nerve of hearing. It converts soundwaves into nerve impulses that travel to the brain via the movement of tiny hair cells. It is the brain that allows you to hear, as long as the message it’s receiving is not distorted due to problems in the process just described.
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Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss is fairly common and might explain why you can hear a pin drop, but not be able to make out what your partner is saying. You’re born with tiny hairs called cilia in your inner ear that move when sound waves are present. Nerves translate the movement of these tiny hairs into information that goes to your brain where it gets interpreted into distinct sounds and frequencies.
The better the movements are interpreted, the more easily you’re able to hear distinctions between sounds such as “D” and “T” or hear letters like “S”, “H” and “F”. Unfortunately, the cilia are extremely delicate and can be harmed by loud noise or other trauma.
Cilia also help your brain determine how loud a sound is, where it’s coming from, and how far away it is.
The Most Common Causes of Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss happens when these tiny hairs are damaged. Often, this type of hearing loss is gradual, which is why many people associate it with aging. It’s thought that animals are able to regrow these hairs and regain their hearing when their cilia get damaged, but humans don’t seem to have this ability naturally.
Common causes of sensorineural hearing loss are:
Head injuries or other trauma
Diseases like diabetes or autoimmune disease
High blood pressure
How to Deal with Sensorineural Hearing Loss
While there are no current medical treatments to heal cilia, you can successfully address sensorineural hearing loss with hearing technology such as hearing aids.