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What Causes Hearing Loss?

About 13% of the American population has some level of hearing loss in both ears. An equal number of people could benefit from having hearing aids to help compensate for these losses. There are many different reasons you can lose your hearing, and sometimes the reason isn’t known, but the end result is always the same — some measure of hearing loss.

When you suspect that you or someone close to you is losing hearing, contact Sheridan Ear, Nose & Throat to schedule ear and hearing exams. Dr. Scott N. Bateman starts the diagnostic process that identifies the reasons behind your hearing loss, as well as establishing treatment options.

The way your ears work

The ear has three sections: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The soft tissue on the side of your head collects vibrations in the air, acoustic sounds that surround you. These pass through to your eardrum, which vibrates in response.

Your middle ear starts behind the eardrum, with three small bones that amplify the intensity of the eardrum’s vibration. The bones pass vibration on to the cochlea of the inner ear. Tiny hairs inside the cochlea convert the sound vibrations into electrical signals that are transmitted by auditory nerves to your brain, which interprets these as sound. Anything that affects the conversion of acoustic sound into electrical signals can result in hearing loss.

Common reasons for hearing loss

Each section of the ear has its own health challenges, and a failure in any of these sections can create hearing loss or deafness. Some causes may be treatable, but others are permanent, requiring assistive devices including hearing aids and cochlear implants to compensate for moderate to advanced hearing loss. Here are some of the most common causes:

Earwax buildup

Earwax, known medically as cerumen, helps protect the canal of the outer ear. Sometimes, your body may produce cerumen faster than it’s naturally excreted from the ear. In other cases, improper cleaning may push clumps of wax deeper into your ear. If enough cerumen builds up, it can block the ear canal, preventing sounds from reaching the eardrum. Dr. Bateman and his team can clear such blockages, which is typically enough to restore your hearing.

Ruptured eardrum

Extreme changes in air pressure, infection, or a perforating injury can rupture the delicate membrane of the eardrum. While ruptures typically heal in a few weeks, you may be vulnerable to middle ear infections during that time. The rupture usually causes temporary hearing loss.

Abnormal bone growth

Affecting the bones of the middle ear, abnormal calcification of the three bones that amplify the eardrum’s movement can result in hearing loss. Sometimes, surgery can correct this problem.

Inner ear damage

Age and cumulative exposure to loud sounds can cause damage to the hairs inside the cochlea, disrupting the conversion of vibration to nerve signals. This type of loss is permanent. Getting older is one of the most common causes of hearing loss, aggravated for those with long careers in noisy environments.

Illnesses, medications, and even heredity can play roles in hearing loss, and the sooner you investigate the causes of your loss, the better your chance for preventing serious damage. To schedule a consultation with Dr. Bateman, contact Sheridan Ear, Nose & Throat by phone at 307-672-0290 or by scheduling online.

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