One of our most valued senses is our hearing. For most of us it’s our means of communication, the way to appreciate music and how we sense the environment around us. The hearing system has 3 areas; the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear.
Any damage or blockage along this chain can affect how we hear. Sound passes through the ear canal as air, this air moves the ear drum which moves the bones in the middle ear and stimulates the fluid in the inner ear, the fluid moves along the nerve in the Cochlea (the organ of hearing) and stimulates the nerve sending the signal to the brain.
The outer ear includes the ear itself and the ear canal. This area can be blocked with wax or a foreign body or can be swollen with an infection.
The middle ear contains the middle ear bones and is an air filled cavity that has the same pressure as the air around us. We depend on equalizing the middle ear with altitude changes like flying and diving. The middle ear can contribute to hearing loss if it contains fluid. Fluid can build up if the pressurizing mechanism is not working properly. Individuals can damage the middle ear bones or ear drum itself with trauma or infection. The majority of injury or findings affecting the outer ear and the middle ear are fixable and when addressed can bring hearing back to a normal range.
The inner ear contains the nerve and organ of hearing and balance. Damage to the hearing nerve is not repairable and thus needs to be protected.
We unfortunately can do little about our genetics and our family pre-disposition to hearing loss if it exists. We can however protect our ears from excessive noise damage. Excessive noise exposure is found in many work places and can be brought on by ourselves with excessively loud music or certain high volume activities like shooting guns at a range without ear protection. OSHA requires ear protection in the work place (construction sites, airports etc) but we still see workers with Jackhammers who don’t cover their ears. The hearing nerve will eventually be damaged by volume and time, or how loud for how long. A loud blast from a grenade or a gun immediately adjacent to the ear can cause permanent damage to the hearing. Loud music exposure all day for years can also damage hearing. We are seeing younger and younger people with permanent hearing loss due to excessively loud, continuous music exposure. Moderation is important in all aspects of life, this definitely applies to noise exposure, once the hearing nerve is damaged and hearing is lost, it will not come back.
If you’ve suffered from hearing loss, contact Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist Stacy Silvers, MD in New York City.