SIGNS OF HEARING LOSS

Our ears are always on, just like the sounds around us. Cell phones ringing, people chatting, dogs barking, traffic rumbling, birds chirping — there’s so much going on, but which of these sounds can you identify? It’s important to take a moment and simply listen to the world around you.

Our brain allows us to identify and interpret different sounds and to focus on what we want to hear. It can instantly recognize the voice of a loved one, or allows you to quietly read a book without recognizing the background sounds. So despite sound being constantly on, it’s our brain that decides which sounds to switch on and off!

Sometimes, it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes, our brain can’t identify a sound because our ear can’t hear it to begin with! Are you aware of the sounds that you can’t hear?

CAUSE OF HEARING LOSS

Learning about the causes of hearing loss and the type of hearing loss you or a loved one could be experiencing, is the first step towards finding solutions that allow life to be lived to the fullest. Experiencing hearing loss – whatever the cause or extent – isn’t pleasant, but there is good news: thanks to modern hearing aid technology, hearing loss is a treatable condition.

Hearing loss falls into two broad categories: the first is congenital, which is hearing loss that is present at birth and caused by factors like genetics or premature birth. The second is acquired, which is hearing loss that occurs after birth, and is the result of factors like illness, loud noise or damage to the ear.

Although we in fact “hear” with our brains, hearing loss happens when one part of the ear – the outer, middle or inner ear – is damaged or unable to function properly, and cannot conduct sound signals to the brain normally.

CAUSES IN THE OUTER EAR

One of the commonest causes of hearing loss is a build-up of compacted earwax. Attempting to remove earwax from the external auditory canal using Q-Tips often has the opposite effect: too much wax is removed, the sensitive skin – or even the Tympanic membrance – is damaged and earwax is pushed deeper into the auditory canal. As a result, the self-cleaning mechanism is impaired and the earwax forms a plug which can ultimately block the auditory canal. However, retained fluid or foreign bodies can also lead to acute hearing loss.

CAUSES IN THE MIDDLE EAR

Inflammations, build-up of fluid behind the Tympanic membrance, perforation of the Tympanic membrance, and otosclerosis (hardening of the tiny bones in the middle ear known as stape) are among the most common problems affecting the inner ear. Babies and children are particularly susceptible to acute middle-ear infections – and an infection will often make a person vulnerable to follow-on infections.

CAUSES IN THE INNER EAR

It is in the inner ear that the actual process of hearing takes places. The hearing organ, the cochlea, is the control center where incoming sound waves are processed and converted into nerve impulses. As we now know, the auditory system is extremely sensitive to loudness, whether this be sustained exposure to noise or a one-off blast of sound. Repeated, intensive exposure or long-term exposure to sound impairs the function of the cochlea. In order to protect themselves from excessive volume, the sensitive hair cells inside the inner ear “mute” themselves, as it were – they reduce their activity. They can regenerate for a while, assuming there is enough time for recovery. However, if the ears continue to be exposed to sustained loud sounds and noise, chronic hearing loss may ensue.

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DEGREE OF HEARING LOSS

Degrees of hearing loss differ vastly, but most cases are categorized as noticeable or moderate. Having your hearing professionally tested is the only way to determine the extent of your hearing loss, and how best to treat it.

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