Hearing is a complex process that allows us to perceive and interpret sounds in our environment. Even though hearing a bird chirp at Landa Park happens in a fraction of a second, the process of sound traveling through your ears happens in many steps.
How Does Hearing Work?
Hearing begins with sound waves entering the outer ear and traveling through the ear canal to reach the eardrum. The sound waves cause the eardrum to vibrate, passing these vibrations to the middle ear. In the middle ear, the vibrations from the eardrum are transmitted to three small bones—the malleus, incus and stapes. These bones amplify and transmit the vibrations to the cochlea.
As the vibrations reach the cochlea, they cause the fluid inside to move, stimulating tiny hair cells lining the cochlea. These hair cells convert the mechanical vibrations into electrical signals, which are then transmitted to the brain through the auditory nerve and are perceived as sound.
Understanding how hearing occurs helps us appreciate the delicate nature of our auditory system and the importance of protecting it. By preventing exposure to loud noises, seeking regular hearing tests and addressing any signs of hearing loss, we can maintain optimal hearing health and preserve our ability to enjoy the sounds of the world around us.
Common Causes of Hearing Loss
Three common causes of hearing loss include:
- Loud noise exposure. When exposed to loud noise, the delicate hair cells in the ear can become overworked, leading to cell death or damage. It is essential to be mindful of the CDC-recommended noise levels and avoid prolonged exposure to sounds exceeding 70 decibels (dB) for a prolonged period or any exposure to sounds above 120 dB. To gauge noise levels, decibel detector apps or devices can be helpful.
- Aging. Age-related hearing loss is another common cause that often occurs gradually and is difficult to prevent. Changes in the inner ear, middle ear and nerve pathways leading to the brain are typically responsible for this type of hearing loss. Regular hearing tests are advisable to detect age-related hearing loss early. Symptoms may include difficulty understanding high-pitched sounds, speech or audio from electronic devices.
- Physical trauma. Physical trauma to the ear, such as from a blow to the head, can also result in hearing loss and tinnitus. While some injuries are unavoidable, wearing a helmet during high-risk activities can help protect the ears and reduce the risk of excessive damage.
These three causes—hazardous noise exposure, aging and physical trauma—contribute significantly to the 1.5 billion cases of hearing loss worldwide. While complete prevention may not always be possible, early detection and treatment can help manage the impact of this condition on your life.
To learn more about hearing loss protection, contact The ENT Center of New Braunfels today to make an appointment with one of our trusted specialists.