How Your Hearing Works
- To understand the various types of hearing loss, you must first know how your hearing system works.
- Sound Waves pass through the auditory canal (1) and beat against the eardrum (2), causing vibrations in the chain of three small bones in the middle ear (3). The third bone, called the stapes or stirrup, is the smallest bone in the human body. It fits into an area called the oval window, located between the middle ear and the inner ear (4). When the stapes vibrates with the sound waves passing through, fluid in the inner ear carries the vibrations into the canal of a delicate, spiral structure called the cochlea (5).
- Thousands of hair cells in one part of the cochlea are connected to fibers that make up the auditory nerve. Each hair cell has many microscopic hairs at one end. Movements of the fluid, with the aid of an overlying membrane, bend the tiny hairs. Movement of the hairs stimulates the hair cells to generate electrical impulses, which are carried up the auditory nerve to the brain.
Ear Wax Buildup
One major problem with hearing is the buildup of wax in the ear canal. The ear is normally a self-cleaning mechanism. The skin grows outward from the eardrum to the outer canal. The fine hairs gently and constantly move dry particles of wax, and sloughed skin out of the canal. Many individuals have a buildup of the wax and skin inside the canal. If not cleaned out the eardrum can become completely blocked, greatly reducing hearing and eventually cause permanent damage.
One cause of excessive wax buildup is the use of cotton swabs to clean the canal. The cotton swab is larger than the canal and many times you will be pushing wax deep into the canal, until it is completely blocked.
The best way to maintain a healthy and clean ear canal is to use a few drops of pure apple cider vinegar. Just use an eye dropper to place two or three drops in your ears, two to three times a week. You can also flush out the canal using warm water (make sure it won't burn) in a rubber syringe.
If you have itching in your ear canal, you can use a few drops of baby oil once or twice a week to lubricate the canal.
You should have your ears examined at least once every year, either by your doctor or by a hearing specialist.
Hearing problems are very common. About 1 person in 10 experiences some degree of hearing impairment and about 1 person in 100 experience extreme difficulty understanding speech.
The ear is comprised of three parts: the external ear, the middle ear and the inner. Hearing impairment occurs when there is an obstruction, disease or injury to one or more parts of the ear.
You can protect your hearing if you are aware of what can do damage.
Exposure to loud noise for prolonged periods of time will eventually cause a permanent hearing impairment. To prevent this problem, wear ear protectors.
Colds and Sinus Problems
Allergies, sinus problems, colds and throat infections can lead to middle ear problems, especially in young children. The eustachian tube is in the middle ear and normally drains any excess fluid. If the eustachian tube becomes blocked you can suffer extreme pain and drainage from the ear. If untreated, the small bones in the middle ear can become damaged and a hearing impairment will result.
Do not remove ear wax with hair pins, cotton swabs, etc. You could damage your eardrum or scratch your ear canal and cause an infection. Any excess wax should be removed by a hearing specialist or your doctor.
Diseases and Viruses
Common childhood diseases such as measles, mumps, scarlet fever, whooping cough or any high fever can leave permanent hearing impairment. Women, who are exposed to German measles or other viral diseases during their pregnancies, have a very high risk of giving birth to a baby with a serious hearing problem. If you suspect your baby has a hearing impairment, have his or her hearing tested. Early care and training is very important for the child's development.
It is natural to experience some hearing impairment through aging. About 10% of people over the age of 65 have hearing problems significant enough to interfere with conversation.
Head injuries or reactions to some types of medication can also cause hearing impairment. Common symptoms which may be associated with hearing impairment are ringing sounds in the ears and dizziness. If you suspect a hearing problem, ask your hearing health professional to test your hearing. Your hearing is irreplaceable.
Fluid in the Middle Ear
Many individuals suffer with the buildup of fluid in the middle ear. Any excessive fluid normally drains out the eustachian tube. When the eustachian tube becomes blocked the fluid will build up and cause damage to the small bones in the middle ear, extreme pain, and may even break the eardrum. Many individuals have lost their hearing due to excessive buildup of fluid.
You should visit your doctor if you frequently have fluid in your middle ear. You must see your doctor quickly if you have a flow of pus from any part of the ear. You can lose your hearing if you allow the condition to continue.
Hearing Better Naturally
Among health issues, hearing impairment is one of the easiest ones to ignore, because while it is annoying, it is not necessarily debilitating. Also hearing impairment is usually a gradual process and you don't even realize how much you are missing. However, hearing impairment can and will affect every aspect of your life just as dramatically as other health problems.
Approximately 22 million individuals in North America are affected to some degree by hearing impairment. Unfortunately only a small number of these people seek help to improve the quality of their life.
Can you be helped?
Yes, you can! Hearing aids and assistive listening devices can help the vast majority of the population that experiences hearing impairment. Technology, medical advances and the increase in health awareness have made assistance for hearing impairment readily available to the public.
What should You do?
After you have seen your doctor; you may be referred to an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, throat specialist), an audiologist or a hearing health specialist for comprehensive tests of your hearing ability. These individuals can discuss the results of your tests with you, recommend a hearing aid, or simply dispel any fear that you might have a hearing impairment.
If you want further information about what constitutes a "good" hearing test, check out our link under Hearing Aid Technology.
If hearing is impaired in both ears, your hearing health professional may recommend that each ear be fitted with a hearing instrument. This type of prescription is known as a binaural fitting. In addition to severe or profound hearing impairments, studies have shown that even mild to moderate impairments can be improved significantly with a binaural fitting. We naturally need both ears to ensure our survival and to make communication easier.
What are the benefits?
There will be an adjustment period while adapting to your hearing aid, but you will also notice significant improvement almost immediately. Increased confidence in your hearing abilities at home and in public will allow you to enjoy a better quality of life. The ability to distinguish the location of sounds allows you to avoid potentially dangerous situations, such as oncoming traffic.
In noise, both ears work as a team. Your ability to distinguish background noise from speech improves when you use both ears equally. With binaural amplification, the volume of the hearing aid can also be worn at a lower setting. This helps prevent distortion and reduces the degree of background noise thereby improving speech clarity and sound quality.
With binaural hearing, you can follow conversations in groups more easily. In one-on-one conversations, you will not need to turn your head or to ask people to speak into your "good" ear. Business or social functions will become more enjoyable.
With today's technology hearing aid designs range form discrete custom-in-the ear models to slim, compact mini and regular-sized behind-the-ear instruments. Your hearing health professional will recommend the style best suited to your impairment. Then you can enjoy hearing the way nature intended - naturally with both ears.
Signs of a Hearing Loss
If you are experiencing a hearing loss and considering a solution, here are some things to consider before you make a decision.
Just as each individual is different, so too is a persons hearing loss. No two people will loose hearing ability in the same way. For example, some losses occur in the higher frequency ranges while others may experience difficulty in hearing softer sounds.
Signs you may need to have your hearing evaluated by a hearing professional:
- Listening difficulty at a restaurant with family and friends
- Your hearing condition causes arguments with members of your family
- You hear frequent jokes about your hearing ability
- Your spouse often tells you they frequently have to repeat things for you
- You attend church services or other social events less often because of your hearing problem
- You find it necessary to turn up the volume on your TV or radio beyond a normal level
- You experience feelings of frustration when you converse with others and have difficulty hearing everything they say
If you answer Yes to some of these questions you are probably suffering a hearing loss. Make an appointment with your hearing professional for a complete hearing test.
Tinnitus and Hearing Impairment
What is Tinnitus
What is Tinnitus? Tinnitus, described as a ringing or buzzing sound in the ear, is a symptom that can be related to almost every known hearing problem. It is not a disease, but can be caused by exposure to loud sounds, middle ear infections, tumors on the hearing nerve, and even wax on the eardrum.
Sometimes Tinnitus can be medically or surgically treated. All patients with Tinnitus should consult an ear, nose and throat physician (otolaryngologist) before seeking any other form of treatment. It is not always possible for your physician to determine the cause of your Tinnitus; each case is different.
Almost all patients indicate that stress or tension makes their Tinnitus worse. Tinnitus does not interfere with hearing, although it may affect your attention span. Ninety percent of patients with severe Tinnitus also experience some hearing impairment, usually in the high frequencies, which may be produced by exposure to loud sounds.
There are, as yet, no cures for Tinnitus but there are several treatments currently used to produce relief. One treatment is the use of masking which is available in several forms and when properly administered, relieves form 58 to 65 percent of patient. For some patients, stress management is recommended.
Masking is one form of treatment. Masking is simply the addition of an outside sound that serves as a substitute for the Tinnitus. A hearing aid will also provide relief because the Tinnitus is usually at a low pitch. In these cases, the use of a hearing aid that amplifies low-pitched environmental sounds covers up the Tinnitus.
It takes time to find the correct method of treatment and to properly fit and adjust hearing or Tinnitus instruments. The first fitting is seldom the final one. Please remember that even at best, masking only provides relief, not a cure.
Things to Avoid
All loud sounds. Wear earmuffs or earplugs when using any loud music or power tools. Exposure to loud sounds can make Tinnitus worse. Excessive use of alcohol. Intoxication can make Tinnitus worse, especially during a hangover. Caffeine strongly affects the loudness of Tinnitus for some patients. It is a good idea to eliminate all caffeine from your diet for one month to see if it has an effect on you. Remember that caffeine is in: Coffee (including decaffeinated); Tea; Cola drinks; chocolate and cocoa.