An overview of the ear and hearing - by Josias Naidoo (Audiologist)

Thank you Meditrader Premium member and Audiologist, Josias Naidoo for this very informative article.

A hearing loss is simply a broad term used to define any partial or total hearing deficit. It affects on average 10% of the world’s population and accounts for 20% of all disabilities registered in South Africa. This being said, hearing loss is often left undiagnosed for many years. Over the next few weeks we will break down the condition and help you unpack the various types, stages and management protocols relating to hearing loss. In this article we will look specifically at an overview of the ear as well as what we clinically define as hearing impairment.

The ear is a complex structure that continues well beyond just the outer (visible) ear and the ear drum (tympanic membrane). It consists of a complicated series of structures that transmit and convert sound from a simple vibration into a neural stimulus. As a result of the complex nature of hearing, it is easy to see how any small deviation in the functioning of this auditory (hearing) structure can impact on our ability to hear.

The 3 main components of the ear are the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. These structures have their individual roles to play in the transmission of sound until it gets to the brain. A hearing loss is caused by a dysfunction in any of these 3 components and is classified accordingly.

In order to help patients identify and manage their hearing loss, Audiologists conduct a series of tests that evaluate the ear as a whole. These test results are then analysed to determine the site of pathology as well as the severity of the loss. A conductive hearing loss is often due to wax, ear infection or foreign objects in the ear. It is often a treatable condition and in most cases good medical management can lead to restored hearing. A sensory or sensor-neural loss is a little more complicated. Your Audiologist will have to conduct tests to evaluate the functioning of the sensitive inner ear system. An inner ear loss is often caused by damage to the cochlea and can be as the result of noise exposure, certain strong medications/drugs or general degeneration of the cochlea hair cells responsible for sound detection. Often, this type of hearing loss is not treatable and in most cases, a hearing aid is the best resource for overcoming the negative effects of this type of hearing loss.

It is very important to have your hearing tested should you suspect that you have a hearing loss. A test usually takes a few minutes and can be done on people of all ages. Audiologists are well trained in the identification and management of hearing loss as well as other conditions that relate to the auditory system (tinnitus, dizziness, etc).

Josias Naidoo


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