Hearing impairment, or deafness, is when your hearing is affected by a condition or injury.
One in six Australians are hearing impaired, deaf or have an ear disorder.
So how do we hear?
In normal hearing, sound waves are captured by the external part of our ear and directed down the ear canal to the ear drum. This causes the ear drum to move and vibrate.
There are three small bones (malleus, incus and stapes), which are anchored to the ear drum. The vibration of the eardrum causes these small bones to vibrate too.
The cochlea is responsible for processing this sound. It is filled with fluid and lined with tiny hairs. Movement of the membrane of the cochlea by the stapes bone causes the fluid to shift and the hairs to move. It is this movement that sends signals to the hearing nerve, which then passes information to our brain for interpretation.
Three main types of hearing
There are three main types of hearing loss:
- Sensorineural hearing loss – this is where the sensitive hair cells inside the cochlea or the auditory nerve are damaged, either naturally through ageing, or as a result of injury
- Conductive hearing loss – this is where sounds are unable to pass from your outer ear to your inner ear, often as a result of a blockage such as earwax, glue ear or a build-up of fluid due to an ear infection, a perforated ear drum or a disorder of the hearing bones.
- Mixed hearing loss – this involves both of the above conditions.
The level of hearing loss in a person can be defined as mild, moderate, severe or profound. It is determined by performing a hearing test to discover the quietest sound the person can hear.
We are encouraging anyone who thinks they or a family member (including children), may have hearing problems to arrange an appointment with one of our GP’s for a hearing check.
What the Doctor may do
- Check your ears for any problems, such as earwax or a perforated eardrum.
- Refer you to an audiologist (hearing specialist) or an ENT surgeon for further tests.