How hearing loss can occur.
Some causes of hearing loss include damage to the inner ear, a buildup of earwax, infections, or a ruptured eardrum. To understand how hearing loss occurs, it can be helpful to understand how you hear.
How We Hear
Hearing occurs when sound waves reach the structures inside our ear, where the sound wave vibrations are converted into nerve signals that our brain recognizes as sound.
Our ears consist of three major areas: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. Sound waves pass through the outer ear and cause vibrations at the eardrum. The eardrum and three small bones of the middle ear – the malleus, incus, and stapes – amplify the vibrations as they travel to the inner ear. There, the vibrations pass through fluid in the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure in the inner ear.
Attached to nerve cells in the cochlea are thousands of tiny hairs that help translate sound vibrations into electrical signals that are transmitted to the brain. The vibrations of different sounds affect these tiny hairs in different ways, causing the nerve cells to send different signals to the brain. That’s how we distinguish one sound from another.
Causes of Hearing Loss
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- Damage to the inner ear.
- Aging and prolonged exposure to loud noise may cause wear and tear on the hairs or nerve cells in the cochlea that send sound signals to the brain. When these hairs or nerve cells are damaged or missing, electrical signals aren’t transmitted as efficiently, and hearing loss occurs. Higher pitched tones may become muffled to you. It may become difficult for you to pick out words against background noise. Heredity may make you more prone to these changes. This type of hearing loss is known as sensorineural hearing loss, which is permanent.
- Sometimes earwax can block the ear canal and prevent the conduction of sound waves. This can cause a conductive hearing loss, which usually can be restored with earwax removal.
- Ear Infection, Abnormal Bone Growths or Tumors.
- In the outer or middle ear, any of these can cause hearing loss.
- Ruptured Eardrum
- Loud blasts of noise, sudden changes in pressure, poking your eardrum with an object, or an infection can cause the eardrum to rupture and affect your hearing.