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Guide Health: Hearing loss – listen to this!

Too many of us mistakenly believe that hearing loss is an inescapable part of the aging process

Anywhere from 20 to 50 per cent of Canadians report some degree of hearing loss, with the higher numbers being among seniors. A great many of these people accept diminished hearing as part of aging, or alternatively do not realize that they do not hear as they once did.

Often, it is actually a different symptom that accompanies hearing loss that prompts someone to have their hearing checked.

Hearing is a complex process. Sound waves move through your ear canal causing your drum to vibrate. This in turn causes the three bones of the middle ear — the hammer, anvil, and stirrup — to vibrate. Then vibrations then affect the snail-shaped cochlea.

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The cochlea contains fluid, and in response to the vibrations this fluid moves much like waves in water, and it is this movement that stimulates the hair-like nerve cells that line the cochlea. Different vibrations affect different nerve cells, and the stimulated nerve cells send messages along the auditory nerve to the brain, where the signals are interpreted as sounds.

Hearing loss itself can be either conductive or sensorial.

Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound is not able to reach the inner ear. Ear infections, wax in the ear canal, foreign objects in the ear, or even water in the ear can prevent sound from being conducted to the inner ear.

All of these causes can be remedied. An ear infection can be treated, and ear wax, foreign objects, and water can be removed from the ear.

Just remember to be careful removing whatever might be in your ear, as you do not want to push it farther into your ear.

Sensorial hearing loss involves the nervous system, specifically the nerve cells in the cochlea and the auditory nerve. Sometimes this is due to drugs like cancer drugs or even erythromycin antibiotics. With cancer drugs the hearing loss can be permanent, but with other drugs, stopping therapy may restore your hearing.

Tinnitus (i.e. ringing in the ear) can interfere with hearing. Diuretics like furosemide and ASA are associated with tinnitus, but only in higher doses. However, tinnitus can have an impact on vertigo and dizziness, and these in turn can also affect hearing.

A ruptured ear drum will have an impact on hearing, but ruptured ear drums usually heal.

There is a genetic tendency, and hearing loss does seem to run in families. Ongoing exposure to loud noises can damage hearing. That’s why rock musicians wear ear protection and you should too, if you are working around loud machinery.

Conditions that reduce circulation such as diabetes, heart disease and even obesity reduce circulation to the ear and detrimentally affect hearing. Infections like meningitis and high fevers can also reduce hearing.

You should not merely accept hearing loss as a natural part of aging. An audiologist can check your hearing and recommend therapy or even hearing aids.

You certainly don’t want to miss all the sounds of your life!

About the author

Contributor

Marie Berry is a lawyer/pharmacist interested in health and education.

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