OHSU

The Ear and Hearing Loss

 

The ear is a complex sound system. It takes a lot of special components to hear!

Sound is a vibration which travels in a wave through the air. When the sound waves enter the ear, they go through the ear’s three sections: the outer, middle and inner ear. Hearing occurs when the sound waves enter your ear canal. The sound waves hit the eardrum, which moves the middle ear bones, and in turn transfers the energy to the hair cells in the inner ear. These hair cells send pitch-specific information to the brain to process and attach meaning to the sound. Hearing loss happens when sound cannot travel through these sections to the brain.

Hearing loss typically comes on gradually, often over the course of years or even decades. There are some forms which come on suddenly. Signs of a hearing loss include:

  • Turning the volume up louder than others
  • Asking people to repeat
  • Feeling as if people around you mumble
  • Having difficulty in background noise
  • Experiencing ringing in the ears
  • Being able to hear, but not understand
  • Having difficulty hearing a specific group of people— for instance, female voices
  • Watching the speaker’s face closely
  • Missing alarms such as the microwave beeping or a watch alarm