Helen Keller once communicated to Dr James Kerr Love: “Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people”. One in six Australians is affected by hearing loss; over 50% of Australians over 60 live with hearing loss; almost three quarters of Australians over the age of 70 live with hearing loss. Every day we take our hearing for granted and overlook the crucial role it plays in how we function.
Our ears capture sound and channel this through the outer, middle, and inner ear to be translated as information in the brain.
The Pinna, often referred to as the outer ear, captures vibrational waves in the air pressure around us, causing the ear drum to vibrate, resulting in the three tiny bones malleus (hammer), incus (anvil) and stapes (stirrup) continuing the vibrations along to the inner ear.
Within the inner ear is the snail looking cochlea, which contains the Organ of Corti, converting sound frequencies into nerve impulses carried by the auditory nerve to the brain’s auditory cortex.
Hearing loss may be caused by the outer, middle or inner part of the ear. It may be hereditary; the result of an infection in the outer or middle ear; trauma to the head; noise induced (i.e. industrial, occupational, domestic or recreational); age; or triggered by diseases affecting the middle or inner ear, or further along the auditory pathway.
Hearing loss can manifest in one ear or both, and may present as a high or low pitched hearing loss or even as a flat overall volume loss. It may develop gradually over time, or occur suddenly overnight. Degrees of hearing loss may even periodically fluctuate.
The Social and Economic cost of Hearing Loss in Australia, (June 2017).