How Does Hearing Loss Occur?

a woman holds her ears to symbolize hearing loss

Hearing loss is defined as the partial or complete loss of the ability to hear sounds in one or both of your ears.

How Does Hearing Work?

Hearing loss can be caused by a number of things, but in order to understand how it happens, you must first be able to understand the mechanics behind how hearing works. In order to hear something clearly, sound waves have to reach structures inside the ear where sound wave vibrations are then converted into nerve signals that the brain then recognizes as specific sounds. There are three main areas of the ear, the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear.

Sound waves first pass through the outer ear before moving on to create vibrations in the eardrum, which is located in the middle ear. The eardrum and three other small bones inside the middle ear amplify the vibrations as they travel along to the inner ear. Vibrations then pass through fluid into a snail-shaped structure called the cochlea, which contains thousands of tiny hairs that help to translate the sound vibrations into electrical signals before being transmitted to the brain. The way that the brain distinguishes different sounds from each other is because different sound vibrations will cause different signals to be sent to your brain.

Since hearing is such a complicated process, it is common for some degree of hearing loss to occur throughout your life. This is because at least one of these systems will begin to naturally degenerate as your body ages. Here are some of the ways that hearing loss can occur.

Damage to Inner Ear

This is the most common cause of damage to your hearing. As you age or if you are continuously exposed to loud noises, this can begin to cause wear and tear on the hairs and nerve cells of the cochlea, which interferes with the signals that are being sent to your brain. If these hairs or nerve cells become damaged or destroyed, the electrical signals will not be able to be transmitted as efficiently as they are supposed to be, which leads to hearing loss. This can cause higher pitched tones to sound very muffled. It can also cause difficulties with distinguishing specific words when there is a lot of background noise going on. This type of damage to your hearing is called sensorineural hearing loss, which is permanent.

Buildup of Ear Wax

Earwax can sometimes slowly buildup in your ear canal, which prevents the conduction of sound waves and can lead to troubles with hearing. Fortunately, this type of hearing loss is not permanent, as it can be fixed by removing the earwax that has built up inside your ears.

Ruptured Eardrum

If you experience a very loud blast or noise, a sudden change of pressure, or your eardrum is poked directly with an object, this can lead to infection in your eardrum which can cause your eardrum to rupture. If this occurs, your hearing will likely be affected as well.

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