Three Common Hearing Problems
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Three Common Hearing Problems

The ear is a complicated structure, prone to damage by sound. This article discusses three common hearing problems: conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, and tinnitus.

What?

Hearing loss is a phenomenon that is relatively widespread. It is estimated that about 10% of all people will experience some form of hearing loss during their lives. This, however, might be an underestimation, as many people who hear a little less than they used to will feel well enough not to consult a doctor.

This article will discuss some common hearing problems:

  • Conductive hearing loss,
  • Sensorineural hearing loss, and
  • Tinnitus.

Fig. 1: Illustration of the inner ear. (source: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/innear.html)

Conductive Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can be caused by a variety of factors, but usually, it is a consequence of wear and tear as people age or are exposed to loud noises. When aging, the middle ear bones (malleus or hammer, incus or anvil and stapes or stirrup) become stiffer and less capable of transferring sound.

This can be solved with a hearing aid which amplifies and modulates the sound.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

The permanent hearing loss as a result from exposure to loud noise is known as sensorineural hearing loss. This occurs when either the middle ear is damaged, or the hair cells in the inner ear are harmed. A single loud noise, such as a gunshot close to your ear, can already result in permanent hearing loss.

In sensorineural hearing loss, little or no signals are sent to the auditory nerves, which means that conventional hearing aids will be of little help. There is, however, a prosthetic device that allows a sort of artificial hearing, known as a cochlear implant. This device receives sound waves and transforms them to electrical signals which are transferred to the auditory nerve through an electrode. It takes some time and fine-tuning to get used to it, and the success is variable, but in general, it leads to an improvement in communication options.

Tinnitus

Continuous exposure to loud noise can also lead to tinnitus. This results in a continuous hearing of sounds that are not coming from the outside world. These sounds can be a ringing sound, but also buzzing and hissing are possible. The cause of this is damage to the hair cells in the inner ear and, in contrast to sensorineural hearing loss, where the hair cells produce no more signals, treatment is very hard.

References

  • Agterberg, M.J.; Hol, M.K.; Cremers, C.W.; Mylanus, E.A.; van Opstal, J. & Snik, A.F. (2011). Conductive hearing loss and bone conduction devices; restored binaural hearing? Adv Otorhinolaryngol. 71, pp. 84 – 91.
  • Parker, M.A. (2011). Biotechnology in the Treatment of Sensorineural Hearing Loss: Foundations and Future of Hair Cell Regeneration. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research. PMID: 21386039 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]
  • Roberts, L.E.; Eggermont, J.J.; Caspary, D.M.; Shore, S.E.; Melcher, J.R. & Kaltenbach, J.A. (2010). Ringing Ears: The Neuroscience of Tinnitus. The Journal of Neuroscience. 30(45), pp. 14972 – 14979.

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