LOSS OF HEARING: TECHNOLOGY, HELP!

If you are wondering how essential the ability of hearing is, just look at how the deaf struggle in life. It is indeed very comfortable when you can hear well.

Audrey Wendy Woode
Audrey Wendy Woode

Sometimes, you may forget how fortunate you are to have two functioning ears until you have water stuck in them thereby interrupting how well you can hear. Our ears are undisputedly very important as they help us register sounds, the direction of the sounds, they enable us to recognize voices, music, noise, etc. If you are wondering how essential the ability of hearing is, just look at how the deaf struggle in life. It is indeed very comfortable when you can hear well.

Don't ignore any little sign

Unfortunately, just like all parts of the human body, something can go wrong that can cause malfunctioning and the ear is without exception. There are so many ways in which hearing can fail. Although in most cases, hearing loss happens gradually as one age, it can also occur at any age whether in a child or an aged.

Hearing loss as the name spells out is the loss of the ability to hear in one or both ears, ranging from mild to profound. It can also be said to be the inability to hear sounds completely or partially. According to the 2019 Global Burden of Disease study, about 20% of people experience hearing loss, which affects their quality of life.  Hearing loss can also be referred to as deafness or hearing impairment.

A difference between a patient with a mild hearing loss and one with a profound hearing loss is that the former may struggle with understanding speech, especially in a very noisy surrounding while the latter will need some things or equipment to be present to be able to hear.

Aside from this set of patients, some are severely deaf and those who are profoundly deaf. With the former, they may rely on lip-reading to communicate with people while with the latter, they can completely hear nothing and will have to be reliant on lip-reading or sign language to communicate.


HOW DO WE HEAR?

The vibrations of sound waves in the air are converted into signals that our brains interpret as sound through our ears.

  1. Sound waves enter the outer ear and travel through a narrow passageway called the ear canal, which leads to the eardrum.
  2. The eardrum vibrates from the incoming sound waves and sends these vibrations to three tiny bones in the middle ear. These bones are called the malleus, incus, and stapes.
  3. The bones in the middle ear amplify, or increase, the sound vibrations and send them to the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure filled with fluid, in the inner ear. An elastic partition runs from the beginning to the end of the cochlea, splitting it into an upper and lower parts. This partition is called the basilar membrane because it serves as the base, or ground floor, on which key hearing structures sit.
  4. Once the vibrations cause the fluid inside the cochlea to ripple, traveling wave forms along the basilar membrane. Hair cells—sensory cells sitting on top of the basilar membrane—ride the wave. Hair cells near the wide end of the snail-shaped cochlea detect higher-pitched sounds, such as an infant crying. Those closer to the center detect lower-pitched sounds, such as a large dog barking.
  5. As the hair cells move up and down, microscopic hair-like projections (known as stereocilia) that perch on top of the hair cells bump against an overlying structure and bend. Bending causes pore-like channels, which are at the tips of the stereocilia, to open up. When that happens, chemicals rush into the cells, creating an electrical signal.
  6. The auditory nerve carries this electrical signal to the brain, which turns it into a sound that we recognize and understand.

The properties of sounds include frequency and loudness. Frequency is measured in hertz (Hz) and loudness in decibels (dB). With regards to this, frequencies from 20 to 20,000 Hz are the limits of the human hearing range. Howbeit, our hearing is most receptive to sounds between 2000 and 5000 Hz.

With loudness, a person hears sounds louder than 0 dB. Any loudness above 85 dB can harm your hearing, especially if one is exposed to that sound for a long period.


WHAT COULD BE THE CAUSE OF HEARING LOSS?

I have already mentioned one thing that can cause hearing impairment or deafness but several other things can cause impairment in one’s hearing ability. There are two main types of profound hearing loss or deafness: Congenital and acquired.

Congenital hearing loss shows itself from birth. The most common is the GJB2 gene: when both parents have it (even if both of them can hear perfectly well), the odds of a deaf child is 1 in 4.

The acquired hearing loss, however, happens over time and can happen to anyone.

  • A gradual buildup of earwax. Earwax can block the ear canal and prevent the conduction of sound waves. Earwax removal can help restore your hearing.
  • Trauma or injury to the head
  • Certain medications sometimes called ‘ototoxic’ drugs
  • Certain illnesses such as Meniere’s disease, otosclerosis, or autoimmune disease
  • Acoustic neuroma

·       Chickenpox

·       Ear infection and abnormal bone growths or tumors

·       Sickle cell disease

·       Diabetes

·       Syphilis

·       Meningitis

·       Arthritis

·       Some cancer


HOW DOES OUR BRAIN PROCESS SOUND?

Now, the fact that our ears are key in hearing and picking sound does not mean they handle the sound. It is the brain’s responsibility to handle the sounds that our ears pick. The pathways of the central auditory system transmit neural impulses to the brain’s temporal lobes, where the signals are recognized and processed.

The brain does not only do justice to converting the impulses received to perceived sounds but it also picks up any additional information. For instance, the brain can notice subtle differences in pitch, loudness, and intervals of the sound waves that are picked up by the left and right ears and this is what allows the brain to determine the direction of the sound. Thus, the brain takes separate bits of information from each ear and compiles them into a single sensation. Isn’t it amazing how there are so many processes involved in hearing a particular thing but if you don’t have mild, moderate, severe, or profound loss of hearing, you pick up sounds so quickly? Who was to know that before that happens, there are so many processes that take place.


HOW DOES TECHNOLOGY HELP?

Hearing Aids

I mentioned early on that those with profound hearing loss will have to be reliant on some equipment to be able to hear. Now, this is where technology comes in. In recent decades, there has been so much progress in auditory prosthetics and it became quite easier to help people with hearing impairment through the use of hearing aids and implants.

When a person loses their hearing, the auditory cortex (the part of the brain that plays a key role in our ability to perceive sound) stores memories of particular sounds for about three more years. Then, the memory starts to fade, and at about seven years after the hearing is lost, the brain loses the habit of processing sounds.

Therefore, hearing aids do not only help hearing-impaired persons hear better, but they also maintain the brain’s ability to remember and process sounds.

There is also the Cochlear implant which is an electronic medical device designed to restore the ability to perceive sounds and understand speech. The effectiveness of cochlear implants greatly depends on when the patient became deaf. Therefore, people who lost their hearing after learning how speech recover better than those with congenital deafness or deafness that occurs in early infancy.


SOME SIGNS OF HEARING LOSS

Consult a doctor immediately! 

1. When a person has to increase the volume of a TV or Radio to an outrageous level before they can hear.

2. When individuals have trouble hearing consonants

  1. Difficulty in understanding words, especially against background noise or in a crowd

4. Muffled speech and other sounds


Hearing loss is common but it is very possible to protect yourself against it. Limit your exposure to loud noise. In situations beyond your control, get a device like an earplug, ear muffs, or noise-canceling headphones to protect yourself.

In a case where you already have some form of hearing loss, prevent it from getting worse by avoiding exposure to excessive noise.

Finally, as soon as you discover a hearing loss, treat it immediately. Do not stay quiet about it because it can affect your health as well as your well-being.

REFERENCES

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hearing-loss/symptoms-causes/
  2. https://www.healthyhearing.com/help/hearing-loss
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/249285#diagnosis
  4. https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/how-do-we-hear

Audrey Wendy Woode Twitter

A determined, hardworking and result-oriented lady. I love to read, write, swim, etc. I'm a media enthusiast. I love to connect with people.