Can You Hear Me Now?

Headphones and a speakerEver told your kids to turn down the music or find yourself cranking up the TV to hear a program or maybe left a concert or sporting event with ringing ears? Your ears are one of the most advanced and sensitive organs of the human body. The ear can transmit and convert sound to the brain through the outer, middle and inner ear.

How do we hear?

Sound waves enter the outer ear and travel to the ear canal where the eardrum vibrates and sends the sound to the malleus, incus, and stapes. The sounds are then amplified and cause ripples in the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure filled with liquid. These ripples travel to the basilar membrane, which are then pushed through hair cells that detect higher or lower pitched sounds. The movement of the hair cells causes pore-like channels to open up and create an electrical signal that gets sent to the brain. The brain interprets this electrical signal into sounds like someone talking, music or a passing car. Think about how often this process happens and what you would do if those sounds couldn’t be heard properly.

Hearing Loss Prevention

There are several things we can do to protect our ears and prevent hearing loss.

  • Reduce exposure to loud noise – Be aware of sources of noise like concerts, sporting events, fireworks and certain occupational environments. If possible bring or rent hearing protection. When applicable keep noise levels at a level when you comfortably talk over it. If you have to shout to hear, things are too loud.
  • Wear hearing protection – When you know that you will be exposed to loud noise it’s a good idea to wear protection. Earplugs or earmuffs can help protect the tiny hair cells in your inner ear. A human can hear sounds between 0 to 140 decibels, but doesn’t mean they should. Think of it this way, 10 decibels is almost audible, like a leaf falling. A rock concert, thunder, fireworks or a rocket launch can be anywhere from 110-180 decibels and could cause major damage. Prolonged exposure at these decibels may cause lasting damage.
  • Keep foreign objects out of your ears – Yes, that means the cotton swabs. However satisfying as it may be to get those ears super clean, you could cause injury or infection. It’s recommended that you use an at-home irrigation kit to soften wax build up and gently wash it away. Pens, chopsticks, fingers, tissues and small toys may cause serious injury and result in hearing loss. 
  • Seek prompt treatment for ear infections and ask about medications – While more common in children, ear infections may cause some hearing loss. Additionally, certain medications may have an effect on your hearing. Speak with your physician about possible side-effects.

One-third of permanent hearing loss is preventable with proper hearing loss prevention. If you or a loved one are experiencing hearing loss, our Hearing Health Centers offer comprehensive testing and treatment for both adults and children. For more information or a referral to an ENT specialist, call 1-800-BayCare (1-800-229-2273) or find a doctor near you.