The ear is made of three parts, the outer, middle and inner ear. The outer ear is the visible part of the ear known as the pinna and the ear canal that extends to the eardrum. The middle ear is made up from the eardrum and three small bones that are held in the air-filled space. There are small ligaments and muscles within this space that help to reduce loud vibrations such as that of our own voice through the skull. The inner ear contains the hearing and balance organs. The hearing organ is called the cochlea and has many specialised hair cells that convert the sound into electrical signals and send these onto the brain.
Sound travels through vibrations from the air through the outer, middle and inner ear to be perceived in the brain as sound and what we hear. If sounds are very loud the hair cells in the inner ear can become permanently damaged. This can occur from exposure to a single loud sound or repeated exposure over time.
Types of Hearing Loss
This is where the cells within the hearing organ, known as the cochlea, are damaged resulting in difficulty picking up some sounds. Most noise-induced types of hearing loss are sensorineural.
This is where the hearing nerve and organ are healthy however it is difficulvt for sound to reach this part of the hearing pathway due to problems in the outer or middle ear. Common causes for this are:
- Eardrum perforation
- Ossicular Dislocation/Discontinuity (a condition where the bones in the middle ear are affected)
- Physical trauma
This type of hearing loss is a combination of both conductive and sensorineural hearing losses. In these cases there is some difficulty in the sounds transferring from the outer part of the ear to the cochlea as well as damage within the hearing organ itself.
Hearing loss doesn’t just affect the person who has it. The communication difficulties can cause frustration and stress on relationships with family and friends. Hearing loss can affect a person’s quality of life in many ways and this can be heart-breaking to see.
Treatment for hearing loss can vary depending on the cause. In some cases surgical or medical intervention can improve symptoms. In other cases hearing aids or cochlear implants provide amplification to enable the listener to access sounds that cannot be heard well.
It can often be difficult to accept hearing loss, particularly if the deafness is permanent or has implications for an individuals’ lifestyle or career. Equally accepting hearing aids or cochlear implantation can be a big step for some people due to the stigma that is still attached.
It is important to be mindful, respectful and patient with someone who is adjusting to hearing loss and be aware that they may need some time to consider treatment options that they are most comfortable with.
Accessing treatment is routinely available on the NHS and medical professional will be able to discuss treatment options through assessments and consultation. Assessment will generally include taking a medical history and asking questions about your hearing, looking in the ear with an otoscope to check the health of the ear and hearing tests.