Your hearing is a valuable sense that allows you to enjoy the voices of loved ones, the song of birds in the morning and your favorite music. It also alerts you to danger, like the sound of an oncoming vehicle or the beep of a smoke detector. If you’re not careful about protecting your ears from loud sounds, you can cause permanent damage to your hearing system.
How Do We Hear?
Sounds travel through the air in the form of soundwaves. The outer ear – the part that is visible – funnels these soundwaves into the ear canal and on to the eardrum.
The eardrum, which is the border between the outer and middle ear, converts the soundwaves into vibrations, which travel to three tiny bones called the malleus, incus and stapes. These bones amplify the sound vibrations and send them to the inner ear.
Within the inner ear is a snail-shaped structure called the cochlea, which is filled with fluid. The sound vibrations create waves in this fluid, which causes tiny hair cells called cilia to bend. This process converts the vibrations into electrical signals.
The electrical signals then travel via the auditory nerve to the brain, where they are interpreted as sounds that you can recognize and understand.
How Do Loud Sounds Cause Hearing Loss?
Loud sounds (like music at a concert) cause the hair cells in the cochlea to bend. When this happens, you may experience temporary hearing loss and tinnitus. However, extremely loud sounds like an explosion or repeated exposure to power tools can cause these cells to die. Once they die, they do not regenerate, causing permanent hearing loss.
The average person is born with around 16,000 hair cells in the cochlea. It is estimated that around 30-50 percent of these cells can be damaged or destroyed before hearing loss can be detected by a hearing test.
Loud sounds can also damage the auditory nerve that carries sound information from the ears to the brain. This kind of damage is not always detectible with a hearing test, but can result in hidden hearing loss, which hinders your ability to hear speech in background noise.
For more information about noise-induced hearing loss or to talk about ways to protect your hearing, call the experts at Today’s Hearing.