Most of us take healthy hearing for granted – something we’ll always have. The fact is, 28% of all Americans would benefit from a pair of hearing aids due to permanent hearing loss.
Yet, only 2% of us actually live a higher quality of life through the use of hearing aids. The rest of us just turn up the TV and continue to make our friends and loved one suffer by asking them to repeat over and over.
May is Better Hearing Month and is a time to bring awareness to hearing healthy and encourage those with hearing loss to seek treatment.
So here’s some information on how you hear, how you lose your hearing and what you can do to protect what you already have.
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How Do We Hear
The process of hearing is incredibly complex, yet most of us do it all day long without giving it a thought.
When you hear a sound, it travels through the air, is captured by the outer ear, channeled down the ear canal where it vibrates your ear drum, which in turn vibrates three small bones which vibrate a snail-shaped organ called the cochlea.
Inside the cochlea, millions of hair-like projections float in cochlear fluid and convert those sound vibrations into electrical signals that are next sent on to the hearing centers of the brain.
Here, those electrical signals are processed, interpreted and understood. Without the hearing centers in the brain, you wouldn’t know what you were hearing - the sound of a dog bark or a Harley taking off.
Doesn’t sound so complicated, right? Except when you consider that all of this happens in less than a second. Sound can be processed instantaneously, enabling us to communicate with the world around us.
However when hearing loss occurs, our abilities to hear and understand sound around us are altered.
Common Causes of Hearing Loss
Age is a factor in some cases but not all. The hearing mechanism – the parts you don’t see – are delicate and as time goes by, some of those parts just don’t work as well as they once did. Injury is another cause of hearing loss. Any kind of head wound can lead to hearing loss and complete deafness.
Sudden loud noise can cause hearing loss. Many troops returning from Iraq experience hearing loss caused by nearby explosions, IEDs, machine guns and other loud, concussive noises.
Certain diseases are associated with hearing loss and deafness. And even common household medicines, like aspirin, may damage hearing and should be taken in low dosages and only as needed.
Finally, in today’s multi-decibel world, long-time exposure to loud noise is a major cause of hearing loss – even among people in their 20s and 30s. We grow up in a noisy world - the lawn mower, traffic on the highway, the subway, and the jets overhead. Finding a place that’s totally quiet is almost impossible, no matter where you live.
So, there is no one cause of hearing loss and each patient is unique. That’s why a hearing evaluation is so critical. It’s important for the hearing care professional to identify the range and extent of hearing loss so the proper treatment (hearing aids) can be chosen, and the individual can enjoy the birds twittering in the trees again. Nice.
Protecting what you have
There’s no magic pill to cure hearing loss or even prevent it (yet – researchers may be close). The fact is once hearing is gone it is g-o-n-e. GONE!
So the best solution to solving a hearing problem is to take care of what you’ve got. And to help you in that endeavor, here are some tips that’ll keep your hearing healthy for years to come.
Go Unplugged. The hearing mechanism can actually heal itself when slightly damaged if given time. So, for example, when you leave a rock concert your ears are ringing but a day or two later, your hearing is back to normal. Give your ears a break and prevent further exposure. Give your ears a chance to heal themselves. Damage may have been done but by giving them a break, they have a better chance to recover.
Wear ear protection. Even if you’re a weekend warrior out mowing the lawn, invest in some quality ear protection to protect your hearing - an investment in the future of your hearing health.
See a hearing professional. Have a hearing evaluation performed to determine just how much hearing loss you have, if any. This initial hearing test will serve as a baseline reading for tests in the future so, even if you’re only 40-years-old, see a hearing professional.
And all persons can practice good ear hygiene by not using cotton swabs to clean the ears. Even though we’ve been taught to do this as part of our hygiene routine, it’s dangerous and actually does more harm than good. A cotton swab pushes dirt and debris that collects in the out ear canal deeper into the ear.
If you have ear wax problems, use a wax softener. If you still feel you are having issues, visit your physician or hearing care professional for evaluation and safe ear wax removal. It is easy (and painful) to puncture an ear drum which is another reason cotton swabs are not recommended.
Where to Start?
Request one of our free, comprehensive hearing guides today!
The next step is then to make an appointment with your hearing care professional.
May is Healthy Hearing Month. May your hearing remain healthy for years to come.