A close look at the causes of hearing loss

In order to understand the causes of hearing loss, it is important to first understand how the ear functions. The ear can be divided into three parts; the outer ear- that we can see, the middle ear and the inner ear. The outer ear is responsible for channeling sounds to the eardrum. The auditory canal in the outer ear also amplifies low sounds to make them clearer. These sounds make the eardrum at the end of the outer ear vibrate. The three bones of the middle ear: malleus, incus and stapes then pick up these vibrations and transmit them to the inner ear. The cochlea is the most important part of the inner ear that receives these vibrations and triggers a response in the hearing nerve. Thus damage to any of these three parts can affect your hearing.

Outer Ear

Given how the structure of the outer ear amplifies low sounds to make them audible, a malformed outer ear can keep a person from hearing low sounds. A buildup of earwax can block the auditory canal and muffle sounds. This can be removed easily at home or at a doctor’s clinic. When cleaning the earwax from your ears, do not push foreign objects like a cotton swab inside. Rather than removing the wax, this can push it deeper inside and cause further problems. Instead, use a home irrigation kit to soften the wax and rinse it out.

Middle Ear

Ear infections may seem trivial sometimes, but prolonged exposure to such an infection or recurring infection can damage the middle ear. Swelling and a buildup of pus in the middle ear can cause temporary hearing loss but if it is left untreated, it can damage the structure of the middle ear. Fluid buildup behind the eardrum can also distort sounds and in rare cases cause a perforation in the middle ear.

Cholesteatoma is another condition that affects the middle ear and hampers hearing. This is characterized by the collection of skin in the middle ear when the ear drum collapses or if there is a hole in the ear drum. As the skin keeps growing, it destroys the bones of the middle ear and can even cause deafness.

Inner Ear

The cochlea is susceptible to viral infections similar to the flu which can cause sudden hearing loss. This may or may not be permanent. In some cases the hearing nerve itself may not function properly, thus leading to hearing problems. This is known as sensorineural hearing loss. Apart from infections, sensorineural hearing loss can also be triggered by trauma to the head, tumors, medications that is toxic to the ears and exposure to loud noise.

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