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How The Auditory System Works

The auditory system is one of the human body’s most complex and delicate sensory systems. When functioning normally, the auditory system processes and transforms acoustical energy through the intricate structures of the outer, middle and inner ear and then on to the auditory center of the brain, where it can be identified as sound. The entire process occurs within a split-second timeframe  The process of hearing begins with the outer ear, which collects sound (acoustic) energy and directs it through the ear canal to the eardrum. The incoming waves of sound energy cause the eardrum to vibrate, setting into motion the malleus, incus and stapes (also known as the hammer, anvil and stirrup) bones that make up the ossicular chain of the middle ear chamber, which is connected to the Eustachian tube*. The middle ear’s anatomical structure and conductive motion combine to amplify the sound by appx. 2.3 decibels (dB) and transform it effectively into a fluid (hydraulic) vibration inside our inner ear. When the stirrup - the third bone in the middle ear - vibrates against the oval window membrane that leads to the inner ear, fluids within the spiral-shaped cochlea of the inner ear chamber are set into motion. This hydraulic energy causes the oscillation of thousands of tiny sensory hair cells that reside on the cochlea’s basilar membrane. The motion of the cells triggers chemical-electrical signals that are transmitted through the cochlea’s nerve fibers to the brain along the auditory nerve pathway. The brain can then translate the impulses of energy into recognizable sound patterns.


Symptoms of Hearing Loss

  • Regardless of the type or cause of hearing loss, behaviors resulting from a hearing loss are varied and will reflect the severity of the loss.
  • The following are a few more obvious indicators of a possible hearing impairment:
  • Failure to respond to sound (i.e. speech, T.V., radio)
  • Complaining of earache or a discharge from the ear
  • Confuses or misunderstands other people, especially in groups
  • Watching the speaker’s face
  • Problems with language development and/or pronuciation of sounds
  • Withdrawel from social activities
  • High level of frustration
  • Complains of ringing in ears


Causes of Hearing Loss

  • Excessive ear wax
  • Middle ear infection
  • Acoustic trauma
  • Congenital hearing loss
  • Genetically determined hearing loss
  • Age induced hearing loss (most common)
  • Noise induced hearing loss
  • Ototoxic medications


Effects of Untreated Hearing Loss:

  • More rapid decline in speech recognition
  • Isolation and social withdrawal
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger and frustration
  • Embarrassment


Hearing Loss in Children

Hearing loss in children negatively impacts speech and language development. Therefore, early identification and rehabilitation are necessary to prevent these delays.

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