Are you suffering from hearing loss? Do you need testing in order to find out the extent of your hearing loss?
Actually, as people age, gradual hearing loss happens. Some people may not even be aware they are experiencing hearing loss. There are many reasons that people experience hearing loss, including:
- hearing loss due to the natural aging process
- exposure to loud noise over a long period of time
- viruses or bacteria
- heart conditions
- head injuries
- certain medications
In order to receive the proper treatment for hearing loss, our audiologists need to perform certain tests, evaluate your symptoms, and review your medical history. Treatment for hearing loss will depend on the diagnosis.
How Does Hearing Sense Work? How Are We Able to Hear?
Hearing is a very important part of daily life. It is an intricate and a complex process. To begin understanding the hearing sense, you need to know that the ear consists of 3 sections:
- the outer ear (called pinna)
- the middle ear (the small air-filled space between the eardrum and the inner ear)
- the inner ear
The 3 parts work together to process the sounds you hear. The outer ear, which is the part of the ear you can visibly see, will pick up the sound waves, and then direct them into the outer ear canal.
Then the sound waves travel all the way down the ear canal until they hit the eardrum. This causes the eardrum to vibrate. When the eardrum vibrates, it moves 3 tiny bones in the middle ear.
The 3 bones form a chain; they are called the anvil (or incus), the stirrup (or stapes), and the hammer (or malleus). The movement of the 3 bones will transmit and amplify the sound waves toward the inner ear.
The 3rd bone in the chain (the stapes), will interface with fluid that fills the hearing portion of the inner ear (called the cochlea). The cochlea is lined with cells. There are thousands of tiny hairs on each cell’s surface.
The fluid will travel through the cochlea and the tiny hairs will begin to move. The hairs will change the mechanical wave into nerve signals. Lastly, the nerve signals are transmitted to your brain, which interprets the sound.
Pretty amazing, right?
What are the Two Types of Hearing Loss?
- Conductive hearing loss: This hearing impairment occurs when the transmission of sound from the environment to the inner ear is impaired. It can become impaired because of an abnormality of the external auditory canal or the middle ear. Conductive hearing loss can either be temporary or permanent. It can be caused by a chronic ear infection left untreated. It is treated (if the fluid is in the middle ear) by draining the middle ear and inserting a tympanostomy tube.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: This hearing impairment occurs because of abnormalities in the inner ear or the auditory division of the 8th cranial nerve. Sensorineural hearing loss can occur at any age. It is usually permanent.
What is Otitis Media and Ear Infection?
Acute Otitis Media
When the middle ear becomes inflamed, it is referred to as otitis media. Acute otitis media is the condition that occurs when an abrupt infection happens. The accumulation of pus and mucus behind the eardrum is caused by:
- the common cold
- an allergy
- and the presence of bacteria or viruses
This accumulation blocks the Eustachian tube when someone has acute otitis media. Symptoms can include earache and fever.
Otitis Media with Effusion
If fluid sits in the middle ear for weeks at a time, otitis media with effusion will occur. This condition typically happens when a patient is recovering from an ear infection. Actually, it is possible for the fluid to remain in the middle ear for a period of weeks to many months.
It is very important to get it treated right away. It left untreated, chronic ear infections have potentially serious implications (i.e. temporary hearing loss).
Why do Children Often Experience More Ear Infections Compared to Adults?
We will start out by talking about the Eustachian tube— a narrow channel which connects the inside of the ear to the back of the throat. It is located just above the soft palate and uvula.
The Eustachian tube allows for the drainage of fluid from the middle ear. Draining the fluid will help to prevent build up and help to prevent the build up from bursting the thin ear drum. The Eustachian tube maintains the middle ear pressure, which is equal to the air outside of the ear. This enables free eardrum movement. In normal function, the tube is collapsed most of the time. This will prevent germs (residing in the mouth and nose) from entering into the middle ear.
When a ear is healthy, the fluid will drain down in the Eustachian tube, which gets assisted by the tiny hair cells, and gets swallowed.
However, when the Eustachian tube fails to do its job, a patient may experience an ear infection. if the tube becomes partially blocked, the fluid will accumulate in the middle ear. This will cause the bacteria (already present) to get trapped and then multiply. In addition, during the process of the air in the middle ear space escaping into the bloodstream, a partial vacuum is formed. This vacuum will begin to absorb even more bacteria from the nose and mouth into the ear regions.
Getting back to the primary question—-why do children get more infections than adults?
- Children have Eustachian tubes that are much shorter, more horizontal, and straighter than adult’s Eustachian tubes. These 3 factors make it a lot easier and quicker for the bacteria to travel.
- These 3 factors also make it harder for the ears to clear the fluid since it cannot drain with the help of gravity.
- The child’s Eustachian tubes are also floppier, which creates a smaller opening that easily clogs.
How Does Otitis Media Affect Hearing?
When patients have been diagnosed with a middle ear infection or if they have fluid, they also experience some degree of hearing loss.
- If a patient has fluid in his or her ears, they can expect a hearing loss of an average of 24 decibels. 24 decibels is equivalent to wearing a pair of ear plugs. Also, 24 decibels is approximately the level of a very soft whisper.
- If a patient has thicker fluid in his or her ears, they can expect greater hearing loss of up to 45 decibels. This is approximately the range of conversational speech.
Can People Lose Their Hearing For Other Reasons Besides Chronic Otitis Media?
The short answer is yes. There are several reasons why children and adults experience temporary hearing loss, including:
- Chronic middle ear infection
- Eustachian tube dysfunction
- Cerumen impaction: Compressed earwax
- Cholesteatoma: This usually results from chronic otitis media; it is a mass of horn-shaped squamous cell epithelium and cholesterol in the middle ear
- Trauma: This refers specifically to trauma to the ear or the head, which may result in either permanent or temporary hearing loss
- Otitis externa: Also called swimmer’s ear, this is inflammation of the external auditory canal
- Otosclerosis: This is more prevalent in adults. It is a disease of the otic capsule (bony labyrinth) in the ear. It is characterized by the formation of soft, vascular bone leading to progressive conductive hearing loss. It occurs because of the fixation of the stapes (bones in the ear). As a result, sensorineural hearing loss may become evident due to the involvement of the cochlear duct.
Patients often wonder whether a hearing test should be performed when it is related to frequent infections or fluid. The short answer is yes.
Hearing tests should be performed for children who: experience frequent ear infections, have fluid in the middle ear for more than 3 months, or experience hearing loss that lasts more than six weeks.
Our audiologists typically use state-of-the-art medical devices (tympanometer, audiometer, otoscopy) to test your hearing, the flexibility of the ear drum, and the Eustachian tube function.
What Should You Do Now?
If you would like to get your hearing tested and receive proper treatment, call Northeast Atlanta ENT today. We can schedule an appointment at either of our office locations— Johns Creek, GA or Lawrenceville, GA. We look forward to solving your hearing loss problems.