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May Was Better Hearing Month: Time to Look at Your Ears

It only rolls around once a year but May was Better Hearing Month - a time for you to stop for a moment to consider the wonders of hearing and what life would be like if you experienced hearing loss. It wouldn't be anywhere near as much fun.

When you hear a sound, it travels through the air, is captured by the outer ear, and 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 a sea of 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 interpreted. The sound you hear is localized (you can tell from which direction it came) and, using the memories stored in your brain's memory banks, you can identify the sound as a dog bark or a Harley taking off.

Now, when all of those little ear bits are working properly and the brain's hearing centers are firing on all cylinders, you can hear. But if anywhere along that route, sound waves encounter a problem, you don't hear or you don't hear as well.

So, when working properly, hearing is a blessing that we often take for granted. However, when the ears start to go, or if an individual experiences sudden hearing loss, we're looking at a life changing event.

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. This is called presbycusis - hearing loss due to the natural aging process.

Traumatic head injury is another cause of hearing loss. An auto accident or a hard blow to your head can cause hearing loss for life. In fact, any kind of head wound can lead to hearing loss.

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. It can happen in a war zone, it can happen in the back yard.

Certain diseases, like mumps, 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, long-time exposure to loud noise is a major cause of hearing loss - even among people in their 20s and 30s.

Protecting the hearing you have

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. Give your ears a break from noise exposure. Give your ears a chance to heal themselves.
  • Don't use cotton swabs to clean the ears. It's dangerous and actually does more harm than good. If you have ear wax problems, use a wax softener or consult with an audiologist of physician for safe ear wax removal.
  • Wear ear protection. Even if you're a weekend warrior out mowing the lawn, invest in some quality ear cups to protect your hearing.
  • See a hearing professional. Obtain a baseline hearing evaluation to determine where your hearing is at. Hearing loss can occur gradually and one may not be fully aware of the amount of hearing loss they have.

To learn more about hearing loss, causes of hearing loss and treatment options, visit: May is Better Hearing Month: Time to Look at Your Ears.

May your hearing remain healthy for years to come.

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