October 29th, 2015

5 things you may not know about your hearing:

  1. Your brain is in on the act

Your outer ear (pinna) acts like a satellite dish to collect sound in our environment and funnel it to the inner ear. The inner ear translates the sound into electrical impulses and sends it along the auditory nerve. Once the electrical impulses reach the brain, it interprets them into recognizable sound.

Because hearing is so interlinked and dependent on the auditory cortex in the brain, hearing loss actually accelerates cognitive decline. A study by John Hopkins Medicine showed that those with hearing loss had a 30-40% faster cognitive decline than those without.

2. Hearing is a hairy situation

Did you know you have hair inside your ears? No, I’m not talking about the hair right inside your canal (yeah, you have some there). I’m talking about the tiny little hair cells in your inner ear!  Also known as stereocilia, the hair cells in the inner ear receive sound vibrations from the outer ear and change them into electrical impulses which they send to the brain along the auditory nerve. These hair cells — approximately 16,000 of them — are rolled up like a carpet inside your cochlea. The hair cells on one end of the carpet are responsible for translating vibrations for higher-pitched sounds and, much like a piano keyboard, those on the other end are responsible for sound vibrations in the lower register. When these hair cells die, you lose your ability to hear different sounds, depending on where the damaged stereocilia are located. Unlike the hair on your head, unfortunately, the hair cells in the inner ear do not grow back once they are damaged or die.

Many things can damage these delicate hair cells, but noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is one of the most common — and preventable. According to the National Institute of Health, approximately 26 million Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 have hearing loss and as many as 16 percent of teens age 12 to 20 have reported hearing loss that may have been caused by NIHL. Hearing healthcare professionals agree: if you can limit your exposure to noise louder than 85 decibels, you can minimize the permanent damage to the hair cells of the inner ear. (In other words, turn down the volume and use hearing protection if you have noisy hobbies, such as hunting or woodworking.)

3. Your left ear is more emotional than your right ear

Scientists have discovered that the left and right ears process sound differently. The right ear responds more to speech and logic while the left ear is more tuned in to music, emotion and intuition. Scientists believe it’s because speech is processed primarily in the left hemisphere of the brain, while music (and other creative functions) are processed in the right hemisphere.

This may explain why those with greater hearing loss in the left ear may have trouble understanding friends and family’s emotional issues while those who have greater hearing loss in the right ear seem to lose some of their ability to sort things out.

4. Both ears act as wingmen for your brain

Having an ear on each side of our head — known as binaural hearing — helps the brain determine where sound is coming from, increases the range you are able to hear, and provides a more balanced, natural quality of sound. In fact, you may be able to hear up to four times better with two ears than you can with one. That’s the main reason why audiologists recommend wearing two hearing aids when you have hearing loss in both ears.

5. Hearing loss can make you tired

A study by the Better Hearing Institute estimates that untreated hearing loss costs the United States $56 billion each year in lost productivity at work, much of which can be blamed on hearing loss fatigue. A survey by the Danish Institute for Social Research found that as many as one in five people with hearing loss stop working altogether. Of those who do work, 15 percent are too tired at the end of the day to pursue leisure activities.

Fortunately, hearing aids can reduce hearing loss fatigue. When the sounds in your environment are amplified, it takes less effort for you to hear speech and other sound. Today’s technology makes it even easier. Many hearing devices have features which isolate and amplify the sound you want to hear while significantly reducing or removing background noise.

For more details, check out this article by Healthy Hearing.

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