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23 Jan

3 Parts of the Ear Explained - Signs Of Hearing Loss | BeltonePA

3 Parts Of The Ear Explained

Components of the ear make it possible to hear and also support balance and coordination. All parts of the ear serve a unique and important purpose to facilitate balance and hearing. The outer, middle, and inner ear function together to form our body’s sound system.

The Outer Ear

Why do we have a large, semicircular piece of tough cartilage encircling the outside of the middle and inner ear? Do we really need it to be able to hear? Although the pinna and earlobe appear to be good for wearing earrings or keeping long hair from falling in your face, they actually are necessary for hearing.

man listening

Without the outer ear funneling sound waves into the middle ear and ultimately to the inner ear, you could only hear sounds happening right next to your ear. Even then, sound waves would be chaotically scattered before reaching your eardrum. Consequently, what you perceive as a dog barking may sound vague and without the qualities defining the recognizable sound of a dog bark.

The Middle Ear

Located in the air-filled spaces in the skull's temporal bones at the base and sides of the skull, the middle ear maintains equalized air pressure with assistance from the Eustachian tube, a long tube draining into your nasopharynx (the back of your nose and throat). Included in the middle ear's architecture are the ossicles, three tiny bones sitting next to the tympanic membrane. The ossicles convert soundwaves vibrating the tympanic membrane into mechanical vibrations that cause fluids (perilymph) in the inner ear to initiate wave motions.

These waves are eventually transformed into bioelectrical signals that are detected and picked up by specialized cells, which send them through the cochlear nerve to your brain for interpretation. This is an extremely simplified explanation of how we hear soundwaves, as many complex chemo-electrical processes occur between the time soundwaves reach the ossicles.

The Inner Ear

The two primary functions of the inner ear involve fine-tuning your hearing and preserving your sense of balance. Consisting of hundreds of fluid-filled tubes protected by the skull's temporal bones, the inner ear also contains the hairy cells of Corti essential for relaying transformed soundwaves to the temporal lobe of the brain. The hairs attached to the outside of these cells are called stereocilia. Upon stimulation, they begin transduction of sound by bending in unison. As stereocilia wave and bend in response to soundwaves, they cause signals to travel along the auditory nerve and into the brain.

girls whispering

Within the inner ear also lies the body's balance system, consisting mostly of semicircular canals containing fluids and sensory cells for detecting rotational activity of the head. When you move your head in any direction, these hair cells transmit nerve signals to your brain via the auditory nerve. Once processed, nerve impulses tell you where your body is in space and whether you are still or moving.

Ear infections often prevent normal stimulation of sensory hair cells by suppressing functioning of structures called calcium crystals. When the calcium crystals cannot stimulate hair cells in the inner ear and generate nerve impulses involved in balance, you may experience dizziness, vertigo and nausea provoked by constant dizziness.

Symptoms of Hearing Loss Originate In the Middle and Inner Ear

Hearing loss generally emerges from diseases or disorders of the middle and/or inner ear. Common causes of hearing loss include age-related hearing loss, regular exposure to loud noises without wearing protection and recurring ear infections. Bacterial ear infections can deteriorate bony structures in the ear unless fluid is removed with medications or invasive treatment.

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Sensorineural Hearing Loss, (SHL)

Sensorineural hearing loss is diagnosed in nearly 25 percent of people over 65 years old. Advanced age, Meniere's disease and ototoxic drugs such as diuretics or high-dose aspirin typically produce symptoms of hearing loss due to sensorineural disorders.

Signs of hearing loss due to SHL include:

  • Normal sounds may seem loud or distorted
  • Difficulty following conversations involving multiple speakers
  • Inability to hear specific sounds in noisy environments
  • Hearing deeper voices is easier than hearing more high-pitched voices
  • Hearing someone else talk is difficult when background noise exists

People with sensorineural hearing loss may also ask others to repeat what they say, insist the volume of a TV or radio is not loud when it is, or withdraw from social interactions because of difficulty hearing. Seniors suffering hearing loss may even be misdiagnosed with depression as a result of appearing disinterested in maintaining relationships with family members and friends. It is important everyone over age 50 get their hearing tested at least once every two or three years to avoid unnecessary repercussions of unaddressed hearing loss.

For more than 75 years, Beltone has been significantly improving quality of life by providing superior, state-of-the-art hearing aids for people with all kinds of hearing impairments. To find a Beltone dealer nearest your location, please call 1-866-530-9145.

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