Understanding Hearing Loss

The ear is a remarkably complex sound system. A good understanding of how we hear is beneficial for understand hearing loss.

Anatomy & Physiology, Connexions Web site. http://cnx.org/content/col11496/1.6/, Jun 19, 2013.

Anatomy & Physiology, Connexions Web site. http://cnx.org/content/col11496/1.6/, Jun 19, 2013.

Outer Ear (External Ear)

Your outer ear gathers sound waves from the environment. The shape of your outer ear helps to emphasise information important for speech understanding. Your outer ear then transfers this information down your ear canal to your middle ear for further processing.

The Middle Ear

Your middle ear consists of the tympanic membrane (ear-drum), Eustachian tube and 3 of the smallest bones in the body, the ossicles. These work together to increase the intensity of sound for optimal processing in the inner ear (cochlea).

The middle ear is responsible for pressure equalisation – i.e. in order to hear best we need to have equal pressure either side of the ear-drum. In young children (up to approximately 7 years of age) the Eustachian tube is more horizontal than in adults and does not drain any fluid that may build-up in the middle ear efficiently. This is why children are more susceptible to middle ear dysfunction (e.g. often referred to as glue ear).

Middle ear pathology can also occur in adults.

Hearing loss associated with middle ear problems is referred to as a Conductive Hearing Loss. Some middle ear pathologies are able to be medically managed via surgery, others not. All Ears Audiology works closely with Ear, Nose and Throat specialists to ensure the best outcome for all clients.

The Inner Ear (Cochlea)

Your inner ear (cochlea) analyses and interprets the sounds received from your middle ear and then converts this sound to a bio-electrical signal to be transmitted via your auditory nerve to your brain. Your brain then turns the signal into sounds or speech that you can recognise and understand.

The inner ear also includes our vestibular system which plays an important role in our balance.

Hearing loss associated with inner ear problems is referred to as a Sensorineural Hearing Loss. This is a permanent type of hearing loss often requiring both medical and audiological management.

People can also present with a Mixed Hearing Loss. In these cases there is both middle ear pathology and an inner ear (cochlea) problem. Mixed hearing losses often require both medical and audiological management.

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