The sense of hearing is such a gift. There’s nothing quite like listening to your favorite song or hearing the voice of a loved one. In a more practical sense, being able to hear keeps us safe from potential dangers, like an oncoming train, and lets us know when to pull over for an ambulance that’s coming up behind us on the road.
For those reasons and more, it’s important to take good care of our ears and monitor ourselves for any hearing loss. There are a few different types of hearing loss, all of which are good to know about. In this blog, we go over the auditory system at large and each type of hearing loss.
The auditory system
The auditory system is made up of the structure of the ear and the auditory pathways that send sound information to the brain. The structure of the ear includes the outer, middle, and inner ear, and each plays a role in the ability to hear.
The pinna (what we see on the outside of our heads), the ear canal, and the eardrum all make up the outer ear. The pinna collects sound waves and funnels them into the ear canal, which amplifies them as they travel to the eardrum. The sound waves cause the eardrum to vibrate, which brings us to the middle ear.
In addition to the eardrum, the middle ear has ossicles, which are tiny bones that send the vibrations from the eardrum to the inner ear. There are three ossicles, each named after their shape: the incus (anvil), the malleus (hammer), and the stapes (stirrup). They work to further amplify sound waves and send them to the inner ear.
Connecting the middle ear to the inner ear is a structure called the Eustachian tube, which equalizes the pressure between the air outside the ear and the air inside the middle ear. The sound waves then travel into the inner ear via the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure filled with fluid that responds to the vibrations. When the fluid moves, 25,000 nerve endings begin to move and convert the vibrations into electrical impulses that are carried to the brain by the auditory nerve. The brain interprets those impulses, and voila – that’s how we hear!
Types of hearing loss
Different types of hearing loss affect different parts of the auditory system. Each varies in their degree of hearing loss, from mild to profound.
- Conductive hearing loss: caused by something that prohibits sound from getting past the outer or middle ear, and can usually be treated with medicine or surgery
- Sensorineural hearing loss: when something affects the way the inner ear or auditory nerve works
- Mixed hearing loss: includes both sensorineural and conductive hearing losses
- Auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder: occurs when the inner ear or hearing nerve sustains damage and disrupts the way sound is organized and understood by the brain
The way hearing loss affects you can also be categorized further:
- Asymmetrical or symmetrical: the same or different in each ear
- Congenital or acquired/delayed: present from birth or presents later in life
- Fluctuating or stable: gets better or worse over time or remains stable
- Pre-lingual or post-lingual: occurred before or after the person learned to talk
- Progressive or sudden: becomes worse over time or the onset is quick
- Unilateral or bilateral: present in one or both ears
If you think you’re experiencing hearing loss, contact our New York, New York, office to schedule a hearing evaluation with our expert provider, Dr. Vandana Kumra. If your evaluation reveals a problem with your hearing, our dedicated team at ENT New York walks you through your treatment options. Get back to hearing your best with the help of ENT New York.