Take care of your ears: Facts about hearing loss
Illustration by Megan Rojas
The chirping of birds, the joyous laughter of loved ones and the rustling of leaves are all sounds that help shape our world.
"Our sense of hearing is extremely important," says Debbie Abel, an audiologist with the American Academy of Audiology. "It allows us to maintain communication with family and friends, keeps us safe in our environment and on top of our game at work."
But life's noises are either muffled or silenced for an estimated 36 million people in the U.S.
“There’s no shame in hearing loss,” Abel says. “The shame is doing nothing about it.”
Types of hearing loss
CONDUCTIVE HEARING LOSS occurs when sound waves aren't transmitted properly from the outer to the middle ear. Common causes are inflammation caused by colds, allergies and ear infections; the presence of a foreign body or built-up earwax in the ear canal; a perforated eardrum; or fluid in the ear.
"To hear, the three little bones in your middle ear must move freely," Abel says. "If there's fluid, it affects your ability to interpret sound." If you suffer from this kind of loss, Abel adds, you can most likely regain your hearing through treatments with medicine or surgery.
SENSORINEURAL HEARING LOSS occurs when the cochlea of the inner ear, or the nerve pathways to the brain, are damaged. Diseases and viruses — such as Lyme disease and herpes — as well as certain drugs can cause this hearing loss.
"Some medications, like antibiotics with the suffix -mycin or -micin, can damage the hair cells in the cochlea," Abel says. "Unfortunately, this kind of damage is permanent."
Humans are born with 30,000 hair cells per ear. They convert the sound vibrations that travel from the middle ear into electrical impulses that are carried to the auditory nerve.
Abel adds that other possible culprits of sensorineural hearing loss are noise exposure, head trauma and aging.
MIXED HEARING LOSS is a combination of both conductive and sensorineural — is the third kind of hearing loss.
Don’t play it by ear
Follow these tips to prevent noise-induced hearing loss:
- If you’re exposed to loud noise like a lawnmower or hair dryer on a daily basis, wear protective earplugs or muffs for protection.
- Turn down the iTunes. Abel says you know the volume on your MP3 player is too high if someone next to you can hear your music. “Follow the 60/60 rule for headphones,” she says. “Don’t listen at more than 60 percent of the maximum volume longer than 60 minutes.”
- Silence is golden. Give your ears a break by alternating quiet activities with louder ones.
- Rock on responsibly. Abel says at 110 decibels or more, music concerts of any genre can be damaging. “Wear comfortable earplugs to avoid doing harm.”