The Auditory System And Age-Related Hearing Loss
Which Hearing Loss is Progressive And Associated With Aging
Our senses are responsible for our effective communication with the outside world, hence enabling us to interact with outers, be socially connected to the world, and satisfy our human and aesthetic needs of appreciating nature, art, music, and all combined. This fact suggests that a possible injury or disfunction of our senses will automatically have an impact on the way we function as human beings.
As hard as it can be to voice the health problems connected to our senses, out of all changes that occur with aging in our sensory organs, hearing deterioration or loss can probably be considered one of the most expected, common, and even accepted ones.
Of course, being an important part of how we consume the information from the outside world hearing serves various significant functions: it controls the system of communication through speech, indicates possible potential detrimental events that occur outside of our visual field, and serves for our aesthetic functional needs such as an appreciation for music, nature and more.
Acknowledging the wide scope of impact hearing has on our well being, with consequences for our social, psychological, and functional prosperity, core operational features of this sense, the way it works and serves us, and possible dangers for its successful functioning should be well understood, acknowledge, and properly taken care of.
Defining Age-Related Hearing Loss:
To put it simply, age-related hearing loss or presbycusis is considered to be the loss of hearing that can gradually occur as we grow older. It is one of the most common health conditions that affect older and elderly adults.
According to studies, around one in three individuals between ages 65 and 74 are experiencing hearing loss in the United States, and approximately half of the people older than 75 have difficulties hearing.
Moreover, according to the World Health Organisation around 5% of the world’s population which is 466 million people have disabling hearing loss. Unfortunately, it’s predicted to reach over 900 million people by the year of 2050, which would mean that one person in every 10 people will experience hearing loss.
Most often, it occurs in both ears and equally affects them. Considering the fact that the loss happens gradually, most often when you are experiencing age-related hearing loss you might not be able to realize the damage on your hearing abilities.
As the statistics mentioned above, hearing loss is a common danger to all of us. However, there are various measurements and protection methods that can help to minimize its effects. But before turning into details on how to prevent its consequences, let’s first have a look on the basis of how we hear.
How Do We Hear?
Hearing is a process of series of events that are designed to change sound waves in the air into electrical waves. Following this, your auditory nerve is responsible for carrying these signals to your brain through further complex steps.
To help find the reasons for hearing loss, let’s quickly review the steps in which the hearing process occurs.
- It starts with the entering process of sound waves to the outer ear and continues with their travel through a narrow passageway called the ear canal, which leads to the eardrum.
- As a result of the incoming sound waves the eardrum vibrates and sends these vibrations to three tiny bones in the middle ear. Those are the malleus, incus, and stapes.
- The bones in the middle ear consequently combine the sound vibrations from the air to fluid vibrations in the cochlea of the inner ear. It is shaped like a snail and filled with fluid. Afterward, an elastic partition runs from the beginning to the end of the cochlea, as a result splitting it into an upper and lower part. Serving as the base or ground floor on which key hearing structures sit this partition is called the basilar membrane.
- Later, once the vibrations cause the fluid inside the cochlea to ripple, traveling waves start forming along the basilar membrane. Hair cells-sensory cells sitting on top of the basilar membrane so to say guide the wave.
- The hair cells move up and down, resulting in microscopic hair-like projections that perch on top of the hair cells bump against an overlying structure and bend. This bending leads to pore-like channels at the tips to open up. As that happens, chemicals start rushing into the cells, creating an electrical signal.
- In the last step, the auditory nerve simply carries this electrical signal to the brain. The brain turns it into a sound that we are ready to recognize and understand.
Correlation of Aging And Hearing Loss:
With aging, our organism witnesses a decrease in the number of neurons in the cochlea nuclei and auditory centers of the brain. Interestingly, a reduction in the size of cells and changes in the neurochemical makeup of the cells is common as well when we age. This process is mostly associated with a decrease in the ability of the central auditory system to process sound. However, there are so many other factors that can contribute to or cause hearing loss.
If we are inclined to discuss conditions that are more common in older people, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, those are disposed to contribute to hearing loss. Moreover, there are also various medications that are toxic to the sensory cells in your ears, example of which can be some chemotherapy drugs. Those on their turn also have a high risk of causing hearing loss.
Another important cause of hearing loss is considered to be what is called noise-induced hearing loss. It is mainly caused in cases of long-term exposure to sounds that are either too loud or lasts too long. This kind of noise exposure raises the risk of damaging the sensory hair cells mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, once those cells are damaged, they are not able to grow back resulting in your damaged ability to hear properly.
Importantly, the majority of older people with hearing loss have a combination of noise-induced hearing loss and age-related hearing loss.
How to Prevent Hearing Loss?
At this time, there is no specific method suggested by scientists that entirely prevents a person from age-related hearing loss. However, there are several important methods, and protection means worth considering when it comes to preventing noise-induced hearing loss.
Those include but are not limited to:
- Reducing exposure, both occupational and recreational to loud sounds. This can be done through the use of personal protective devices such as earplugs and noise-canceling earphones and headphones.
- Avoiding the use of specific drugs which have the risk of harmful elements for your proper hearing, unless those are particularly prescribed and monitored by a qualified physician.
- Importantly, the usage of proper hygiene. Avoid sticking a cotton swab, or another object in your ear to remove earwax, or scratch your ear. However, if those caused you problems with hearing, try to contact and speak to your doctor about the best way to remove it.
While age-related hearing loss is a complicated process that affects many of us, there are various hearing aids, supporting programs, and protection methods that are designed to make our lives easier.
Visit our website to learn more about hearing loss and check out our Hearing aids Products in Toronto.