Hearing Loss

By Steve Brems, M.A.

This week we are deviating from our usual article series by giving you an article about hearing loss kindly provided by Steve Brems, a certified clinical audiologist at Fox Valley Ear, Nose, & Throat Associates. They are located across from our practice in suite 102. They also have offices in Elgin and St Charles. Fox Valley has specialists in the treatment of ear, nose, throat and sinus disorders. They also provide complete audiology services, hearing aids and allergy evaluations. This is what Steve Brems had to say about hearing loss:

Understanding hearing loss first requires a basic knowledge of how we hear. The outer ear acts like a dis that collects sound waves. These sound waves travel down the ear canal and vibrate against the eardrum. In the area behind the eardrum, the middle ear, three tiny bones act as a bridge and transfer the vibrations on the eardrum to the fluid filled cochlea of the inner ear. These vibrations are converted into electrical nerve impulses by the tiny hair cells of the inner ear. These impulses are carried via the auditory nerve to the central auditory processing part of the brain, where they are translated into meaningful information.

Hearing loss that occurs gradually as we age is not uncommon. The National Institute of Health estimates that one third of all people in the US between age 65 and 75 experience some degree of hearing loss. It is believed that heredity and exposure to loud noise are major factors contributing to the development of hearing loss over time.

In the majority of cases, hearing loss occurs because the delicate hair cells in the inner ear are damaged or do not function properly. This is referred to as sensori-neutral hearing loss. These hair cells are like keys on a piano. If we remove six or seven keys on a piano and play a familiar melody, it may be difficult to recognize. If our central auditory processing center does not receive all the sounds and pitches of a message, it too may be difficult to understand the message. This type of hearing loss is not medically treatable, but can usually be helped through the use of hearing instruments.

Another type of hearing loss is called conductive hearing loss. This occurs when some sort of obstruction prevents sound waves from reaching the inner ear. Common obstructions are earwax, fluid collected in the middle ear space, abnormal bone growth in the middle ear, or perforation of the eardrum. Most conductive hearing losses can be treated medically.

Living with untreated hearing loss means difficulty in conversations with others both in social and work situations. Since hearing loss usually develops slowly, it is very common for those who are close to the individual with hearing loss to notice the problem first. As it is said – lose part of your vision and you will notice it – lose part of your hearing and everyone else will notice it. Unfortunately, most people typically disregard their hearing loss for 5 – 7 years which is a bad decision. The longer one waits to correct a hearing problem, the longer it may take the brain to relearn how to understand the sounds it has been missing.

If you, or your family, or anyone close to you, suspect a hearing problem, don’t wait to get it checked. A hearing test is quick, simple and painless. In most cases you will learn the results immediately and you can be counseled as to your options to correct or improve your hearing.

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