One in five people reports that they sometimes have problems with their hearing, a staggering 20% of the population. Hearing is a complex process; because of this, the causes of hearing loss are numerous. When a sound travels from the outside environment, through the ear, and into the brain, several processes can fail, resulting in hearing loss.
What Happens When Hearing Loss Occurs
Hearing loss can occur when there’s a problem with a part of the ear. Sound is caught by the outer ear, then travels through the canal to the middle and inner ear. The sound is further processed and refined. Damage to any of these sensitive parts of the ear can result in hearing impairment.
The next part of hearing occurs within the brain. The cochlea, a part of the inner ear, transforms vibrations in the air into an electrical signal that the brain can understand. Problems with the complex neurological pathways that these signals travel along can result in hearing problems.
Some examples of common causes of hearing loss include:
- Blockages within the ear canal by substances such as wax or other objects
- Ear infections
- Perforated or pierced eardrum
- Continued exposure to loud noises
- Malfunction of the cochlea and middle ear due to aging
- Head injuries
- Diseases such as meningitis, mumps, measles, and Meniere’s disease
- Oxotoxic drugs
- Congenital or inherited conditions
A hearing test can evaluate the extent of hearing loss and also pinpoint its cause.
Types of Hearing Impairment
Hearing impairments are either congenital or acquired. Congenital hearing impairment is a hearing problem or deafness at birth or shortly after birth. An acquired hearing impairment happens later: pre-lingual hearing loss occurs before language skills are learned while post-lingual hearing loss occurs later in life. Post-lingual hearing loss is the most common kind of hearing impairment.
Many people find that as they age, their hearing starts to decline. Our hearing is at its peak at the age of 24. Although, most of us start losing our hearing in our twenties. Many factors cause us to lose our hearing as we age, known as presbycusis. Presbycusis is due to degeneration of the cochlea, but can also include damage to the middle or outer ear. Hearing loss caused by aging can be easily detected with a hearing test. The good news is that this kind of hearing loss is easily treated with the use of hearing aids.