How do we hear?

There are three main areas in our ears—outer, middle, and inner ear. When sound travels, it travels in waves from our outer ears to the eardrum, causing vibrations. The three small bones in the middle ear (malleus, incus, and stapes) then amplify the vibrations as they travel deeper to the hearing organ (cochlea). Inside the inner ear, the nerve cells translate the vibrations into electrical signals that are transmitted to our brain, which then interprets the signals as sounds.

How Does Hearing Loss Occur?

Hearing loss can be caused by a number of factors, such as ageing, loud noises, and disease. Some examples include:

  • Damage to the inner ear: Wear and tear on the hairs or nerve cells in the cochlea prevents electrical signals from being transmitted efficiently to the brain, resulting in hearing loss. 
  • Gradual buildup of earwax: Excessive earwax can cause blockage in the ear canal, which hinders sound waves from travelling to your inner ear. 
  • Ruptured eardrum: Loud blasts of noise, sudden changes in pressure, inserting foreign objects into your ear, and an infection can cause the eardrum to rupture. 
  • Ear infection
  • Abnormal bone growths or tumours

Symptoms of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can occur suddenly or gradually, affecting one or both ears. The symptoms include:

  • Difficulty holding a normal conversation or understanding words, especially in a noisy environment
  • Frequently asking others to speak more slowly, clearly, and/or loudly
  • Difficulty hearing speech and other sounds, and needing to turn up the volume of anything you’re listening to
  • Tinnitus
  • Vertigo

Risks and Complications of Hearing Loss

Factors that increase the risks of your developing hearing loss include:

  • Ageing
  • Exposure to loud noise
  • Heredity
  • Medications, such as antibiotic gentamicin, or pain relievers
  • Diseases, such as meningitis

Hearing loss, if left untreated, can have a significant effect on your quality of life. Not being able to participate in conversations may lead to feelings of depression and isolation. The lack of auditory stimulation in your brain can also result in cognitive impairment and decline.

Preventive Methods and Treatments for Hearing Loss

To avoid suffering from noise-induced or age-related hearing loss, here’s what you can do:

  • Protect your ears from noise as much as possible
  • Avoid engaging in activities that can damage your hearing over time
  • Regularly go for hearing tests to keep track of your ears’ condition

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the first signs of losing your hearing?

Having difficulty hearing and/or understanding words, especially against background noise, requiring others to speak slower, clearly, and/or loudly, and not being able to hear yourself properly.

Can hearing loss heal itself?

Hearing loss cannot be resolved on its own. In fact, some forms of hearing loss that occur in your inner ear cannot be reversed. Hence, it is important to take good care of your ears and hearing.

Can you ever regain hearing?

Hearing loss caused by blockages in the middle or outer ear may be reversed. However, hearing loss due to damages in the inner ear cannot be treated. Wearing a hearing aid may help you hear again.

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