How The Ear Works

Normal Hearing Function

  • Sound is transmitted through the air as sound waves and are gathered by the outer ear and sent down the ear canal to the eardrum.
  • The sound waves cause the eardrum to vibrate, which sets the three tiny bones in the middle ear into motion.
  • The motion of the three bones causes the fluid in the inner ear, or cochlea, to move.
  • The movement of the fluid in the inner ear causes the hair cells in the cochlea to bend. The hair cells change the movement into electrical impulses.
  • These electrical impulses are transmitted to the auditory nerve and up to the brain, where they are interpreted as sound.

How To Protect Your Hearing

Shield Your Healthy Hearing From Harmful Noise Levels

Exposure to excessive noise levels (greater than 85 decibels) during work or other activities can significantly increase your risk of hearing loss or exacerbate an existing hearing impairment. Going without hearing protection in the face of harmful noise levels is likely to create problems down the road, when the damaging effects on the delicate hair cells of the cochlea — the inner-ear organ that relays sound signals to the brain — begin to surface.

Concerts, sporting events, hunting, ATV riding, running power tools, or simply listening to music too loudly can all irreparably damage hearing. At times, these noise levels can reach 110 decibels (dB) or more, which puts your hearing at risk in a matter of minutes. Some sounds can damage hearing instantaneously. A shotgun blast at close range without protection can exceed 150 dB, permanently damaging your hearing in one single, fleeting moment.

Repeated noise exposure early in life can be compounded as you get older. Since the hair cells in your inner ear never regenerate, your hearing is unlikely to get any better on its own after experiencing repeated traumatic events. Hearing damage suffered during teen years may not surface until your late 20s or early 30s — or even your 50s or 60s, when presbycusis, age-related deterioration of hearing, becomes a greater factor.

Hearing protection prevents damaging noise levels by dampening the piercing sounds but still allowing you to hear the sounds you want to hear clearly. Our hearing protection goes beyond the kind of earplugs you buy at the drugstore — the Hearing Center offers a variety of custom-fit hearing protection designed to fit the contours of your ear perfectly, offering a snug, comfortable fit and all-day protection from dangerous noise.

Are There Consequences Later in Life if Hearing Loss Goes Untreated?

Protecting your hearing is important, as hearing loss is connected to a number of serious health ailments later in life. The relationship between hearing loss and dementia has been established in research, and it’s a close association. There is strong evidence that hearing loss accelerates brain-tissue atrophy, particularly in areas of the brain that auditory nerves would stimulate but can’t because they aren’t receiving a signal (due to a hearing loss). These areas of the brain are also related to memory and speech.

Individuals with a mild hearing loss are also three times as likely to fall down as those without, and the likelihood of falls increases as degree of hearing loss increases. Hearing loss has been linked to a variety of other diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sickle-cell anemia, and other circulatory conditions.

How Loud Is Too Loud?

As a general rule, if you have to raise your voice to be heard over the music or noise, it’s probably too loud and might be on the cusp of damaging your hearing. Things like lawn mowers or heavy freeway traffic tend to hover between 80 and 90 dB, which is when hearing is at risk of damage. Those who are regularly exposed to noises of 85 dB or more should have their hearing tested regularly to see if the effects of hearing damage are already present.

If you face continuous loud-noise exposure in your leisure activities or at work, please contact us for advice on the latest hearing-protection methods that best suit your needs, or to schedule an appointment to be fit for custom hearing protection.

Preventing Wax Build Up

A leading cause of hearing aid failure is wax blockage. The technical name for wax is cerumen, which is produced by a gland in the outer ear roughly one-third of the way down the ear canal. The amount of wax generated by the gland varies greatly from one person to the next.

DO NOT use cotton swabs, Q-tips, hair pins, paper clips, etc. to remove wax from your ears. You may think you are removing wax because you can see some on the tool you are using, but most likely you are pushing it deeper in the ear canal which can cause an obstruction and make it more difficult to remove. There is also great risk of physical damage to the ear drum. Your hearing professionals can readily identify cotton swab users and will advise them with the saying “don’t put anything in your ear smaller than your elbow.”

DO talk to your audiologist about whether it is appropriate for you to use an over the counter cerumen removal kit or whether you must have your cerumen removed by the audiologist or ENT.

Education is power. Take control of your hearing health.

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