Understanding Hearing Loss
To better understand why hearing loss happens, it’s important to first understand how sound and hearing works.
How hearing works
Sound is essentially vibration in the atmosphere. When something vibrates (whether it’s a voice, radio speakers or the wind), it moves the air particles around it. Those air particles move through the air, carrying the energy of the vibration as a sound wave.
These sound waves reach your outer ear and move through the ear canal to the eardrum. When the soundwaves hit the eardrum, the impact creates more vibrations which cause the three bones of the middle ear to move.
The movement causes fluid in the inner ear to shift, carrying the energy through the spiral structure called the cochlea. The wave-like action starts to bend thousands of microscopic hair cells in your inner ear.
When these hairs are bent, it sets off nerve impulses, which then travel along an auditory pathway before arriving at the auditory cortex in the brain. This is like the hearing centre, which processes the streams of nerve impulses and translates them into sounds that the brain can recognise like words or music.
All of this happens within the tiniest fraction of a second – almost instantaneously after sound waves first enter our ear canals.
It is an extraordinary process of the human body but if any part of this complex system breaks, hearing loss can be the result.
Did you know… the shape of your ear is as unique as you are and plays an important role in how you hear. The curvy funnel-like shape helps you determine the direction of sounds!
The majority of hearing loss develops gradually over many years and is often undetected at first. It is typically unnoticed because the brain tends to compensate by using other subconscious communicating strategies like lip reading and contextual clues (stringing the words you did hear and filling the gaps to make a sentence that makes sense).
The longer hearing loss goes unattended, and the further it worsens, it may no longer be compensated for by the brain. Often those affected by hearing loss eventually become self-aware of having some hearing difficulties but may not wish to acknowledge their loss of hearing – until family and friends start to notice the struggle with hearing.
Most of us understand hearing loss as a reduced ability to hear generally. However, hearing loss isn’t like bad vision where reading is harder as letters get smaller. Irrespective of volume, hearing loss can mean you have lost the ability to hear certain sounds or syllables. For example, high-pitched consonants like F and T are much harder to hear than louder and deeper vowels like O and U.
In the same way, you may not be able to hear the high-pitched voices of females and children, as well as you hear lower-pitched male voices.
Recognising your hearing loss is the first step in your journey towards improving your hearing health. The next is to book a free hearing assessment so we can test your hearing and look at solutions available to you.