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The science of sound: How hearing works – and how it can be lost

Not all hearing loss is created equal. Vancouver Island expert shares what you need to know
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Ever hear words but not immediately understand what they mean? It’s called central hearing loss. Photo courtesy of Ears to You.

While hearing is something most of us experience, when it comes to hearing loss, it’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario.

“Each case of hearing loss is as unique as the individual experiencing it,” explains Jeff Campbell, a Registered Hearing Instrument Practitioner and owner of Ears to You, Vancouver Island’s mobile hearing clinic.

  1. More than just age – Often associated with aging or illness, sensorineural hearing loss results from damaged hair cells in the inner ear. While this type of hearing loss is the most common, it’s presentation – and treatment – varies from person to person. “People are often surprised to learn that a hearing aid or cochlear implant can really counteract this type of hearing loss,” Campbell says.
  2. When a sound hits a roadblock – For you to hear a sound and make out its meaning, the sound must travel from the exterior to the interior part of your ear. Conductive hearing loss happens when this journey is interrupted, usually simply due to an ear infection or to a wax buildup. “Something as simple as removing ear wax can prevent further hearing loss,” Campbell says, noting the importance of regular ear check-ups!
  3. Mixed hearing loss: A double whammy – Some individuals experience both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss, known as mixed hearing loss. Campbell describes it as a condition where “regular sounds become faint and hard to decipher.” Without proper treatment, this dual challenge can lead to severe hearing impairment and even deafness.
  4. Noise-induced hearing loss: the loud truth – Ever come back from a concert and wonder if you’ve lost a bit of your hearing that night? Exposure to sudden loud noises or prolonged loud environments can damage the inner ear’s hair cells. “Noise-induced hearing loss is entirely preventable,” Campbell says. “Protecting your ears in noisy situations is key.”
  5. Central hearing loss: A disconnect in sound processing – Ever hear words but not immediately understand what they mean? It’s called central hearing loss, caused by pathway blocks to the brain’s hearing centres. “It’s about the brain’s ability to interpret speech and sounds,” explains Campbell, noting that this type affects comprehension rather than the hearing process itself.
  6. Auditory neuropathy: a struggle in noisy places – Have you ever been unable to hear the words of a song, just the melody? There’s a name for that – auditory neuropathy – occurs a rarer type of hearing loss that occurs when there’s damage to the inner hair cells or auditory nerve. “This can make understanding speech in noisy environments particularly challenging,” Campbell says.

Tinnitus: The unseen companion of hearing loss

Ever hear a ringing in you ear, when there isn’t any noise around? Tinnitus is characterized by a constant ringing or buzzing in the ears. It doesn’t directly cause hearing loss, but it’s a significant disruptor. “It’s often a symptom of other ear conditions and can greatly affect concentration,” Campbell points out.

Hearing loss can come from a variety of sources – why awareness and early intervention are key. Whether it’s preventive care or seeking treatment, understanding the specific type of hearing loss you might be facing is the first step towards better hearing health.

To book your appointment today, call Ears to You at 250-619-5746 or email mobile.hearing@earstoyou.ca. Learn more at earstoyou.ca

Ears to You serves Duncan, Ladysmith, Nanaimo, Parksville, Qualicum, Courtenay and Campbell River and all the surrounding communities on Vancouver Island from Port Hardy to Victoria!

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