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Posted on Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Trials of Sound Travel

Sound traveling in wave form

Ever wonder why the simple act of sound traveling through such a relatively small space as your ear to your brain can go wrong in so many ways? Wonder no more. Today People Hearing Better is providing a quick reference on how sound travels and where it can get lost on its journey.

Sound travels. It speeds through the air in waves that the outer ear--made up of the pinna and ear canal--captures. From here the sound is whisked down the ear canal to the eardrum. The eardrum vibrates, kind of like a drum, when struck by sound waves. This is the beginning of sound’s journey through your ears. When sound is lost in this early stage it means there are problems with the outer or middle ear. This type of hearing loss is known as conductive.

Conductive hearing loss can be caused by a perforated eardrum or abnormalities of the outer ear, ear canal, or middle ear. It is more commonly because of colds, allergies, or an inner ear infection, also known as otitis media. Otitis media that is chronic is less common and is often the result of problems with the function of the Eustachian tube.

If there are no problems with this early part of the journey and the eardrum vibrates successfully, sound propels onward toward three tiny bones known as the hammer, anvil, and stirrup. These bones are the gateway or bridge that sound needs to take in order to get to the inner ear. Sometimes a condition known as Otosclerosis happens. Otosclerosis is an abnormal buildup of bone that prevents these bones from moving and conducting the sound onward.

If these bones are okay, the sound journey continues. Sound passes through the gateway and moves to the inner ear. First stop a spiral shaped cone known as the cochlea. Simplified, the cochlea is a delicate snail like structure housing tubes filled with fluid and hair.

These hairs cells vibrate when the fluid surrounding them is touched by sound. This interaction changes the sound vibrations to electrical impulses that travel along the auditory nerve where they are whisked onward to be received and interpreted by the brain. The brain decodes these electrical signals so that you can understand them. Wow. That’s a long journey.

Not surprising that the complicated end of this journey with the hair cells, fluid, and delicate structures has the most problems. Hearing problems happening inside this inner ear are defined as Sensorineural hearing loss. Noise, age, damage to the hair cells—to name just a few—can all cause disruption to the sound journey.

Even though this was a very simplified way of explaining how sound can get led astray on the journey to your brain, you can still see how complicated it is. That’s why it’s important to have your hearing checked by a professional hearing health specialist. Your ears and hearing are an essential part of your whole body health, so make sure to treat them like the unique and wonderful structures they are! They’ll love you for it!

If you'd like to learn more, see your hearing health provider. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!

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