Basically, hearing impairment is a condition where our hearing organ, our ear, is affected negatively by an injury, disorder or a disease. This damage may take place in various situations, being triggered by countless different sources. Also, it may be permanent or temporary.
The Human Ear
In order to understand the phenomenon of hearing loss, one needs to understand the anatomy of the human ear. Namely, our ear consists of three parts, the outer, middle and inner ear.
The outer ear again consists of three additional parts which are the visible part on the outside of the skull, the canal which leads to the inside and the eardrum, which is a membrane made of a thin tissue layer, presenting a border between the outer and the middle ear.
Then, our middle ear consists of three tiny bones which are crucial for our process of hearing. The stapes is a bone which resembles a stirrup, being in charge of transmitting vibrations from the outside to the inner ear. The incus is the second bone, looking like an anvil, transmitting vibrations from the malleus, a hammer like bone which collects the outside sounds to the stapes.
Finally, our inner ear is made of cochlea, a spiral tube filled with fluids and the auditory nerve, being in charge of transferring the sound signals to our brain.
The Process of Hearing
Once sound waves enter our ear, they get in contact with the eardrum, causing it to vibrate and transfer these vibrations to the middle ear. There, the three tiny bones amplify the vibrations and send them into the inner ear where these are converted into electrical signals sent to the brain through the auditory nerve.
Hearing Loss and Additional Facts
Depending on several factors, there are two major types of hearing loss. The first one is conductive hearing loss, caused by an obstruction in the ear pathways, disallowing the sounds to reach the inner ear. This may take place due to over-accumulation of earwax or excessive presence of fluids inside the ear.
On the other hand, the second type of hearing loss is sensorineural hearing loss where the tiny hairs in the cochlea or the auditory nerve get damaged by the wear and tear process of aging or by an injury.
Finally, in some cases, both types of hearing loss may strike an individual at the same time.
Today, only in the UK, 9 million people are suffering from hearing impairment, with up to 28% of people between 16 and 60 years old and 72% of the whole lot older than 60. In 71% of cases, people with impaired hearing are over 70 years old. In fact, 70-year-olds suffer from severe cases of hearing loss in 10% of cases, while facing moderate hearing loss in 52% and mild hearing loss in 38% of all occurrences. Additionally, 42% of people older than 50 face hearing loss, mild hearing loss in 52, moderate hearing loss in 41 and severe hearing loss in 7% of cases.
Exposure to sounds such as loud music from portable players is surely on of the main reasons behind hearing loss, especially when it comes to younger generations.