The most common causes of hearing loss are the natural aging process and exposure to loud noises. What these two causes have in common is that the mechanism behind them is damage to the inner ear. Below we review how we hear, how the inner ear can be damaged and how this damage can be prevented.
How We Hear
Soundwaves from your environment are captured by the outer ear and travel down the ear canal, which leads to the eardrum. When the soundwave hits the eardrum, a vibration is created, which passes through three tiny bones within the middle ear called the malleus, incus and stapes. This vibration reaches the fluid-filled cochlea in the inner ear, which causes the fluid to move. This movement activates the tiny hair cells that line the cochlea called stereocilia, creating an electrical impulse. This electrical impulse travels via the auditory nerve to the brain where it is interpreted as sound.
How the Inner Ear Can Be Damaged
The stereocilia are incredibly delicate and can be easily damaged by a number of factors, including aging, noise exposure and inadequate blood supply.
When loud sounds pass through the ears, it can damage or destroy the stereocilia. This noise exposure can be a lifetime of moderately loud noise or a single, excessively loud sound. Sounds at 85 dB – the volume of highway traffic – take eight hours or more of exposure to cause damage, while sounds at 140 dB – the volume of a shotgun blast – can cause damage instantaneously.
Similarly, lack of blood supply due to cardiovascular disease or taking ototoxic medications can also damage or destroy the stereocilia, leading to hearing loss. This is because the cells are deprived of oxygen needed to keep them operating.
How to Prevent Inner Ear Damage
You can prevent inner ear damage caused by loud noises by wearing hearing protection when attending noisy events like concerts and sports games at The Rock Sports Arena. You can also practice safe listening when wearing headphones or earbuds by following the 60:60 rule: listen at no more than 60% of your device’s maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes at a time.
You can also protect your inner ears by taking care of your health. See a doctor for an annual physical so you can be monitored for cardiovascular disease and take medications as directed. If your medications are causing hearing problems, talk to your provider about alternatives.
For more information or to schedule an appointment for a hearing test, call Tejas Hearing Aid Center today.