Hearing disorders or hearing loss can significantly impede our communication capabilities. It's crucial to take preventative measures and maintain good ear health.

Anatomy of the Ear

The ear is divided into three main sections:

  1. External Ear
  2. Middle Ear
  3. Inner Ear

The External Ear

Comprising the auricle and auditory canal, the external ear captures sound waves and directs them towards the middle ear. The auricle gathers sound from all directions, while the ear canal funnels the sound to the eardrum.

The Middle Ear

Situated between the external and inner ear, the middle ear features an air-filled cavity housing the auditory ossicles. It includes:

  1. Three small interlinked bones (ossicles):
    • Malleus
    • Incus
    • Stapes
  2. Eustachian Tube for pressure equalisation

These bones work in unison to transmit vibrations from the eardrum to the inner ear via the oval window.

The Inner Ear

The inner ear has two main functions:

  1. Hearing (Cochlea)
  2. Balance and motion (Semicircular canal and otolithic organ)

The cochlea houses hair cells and fluid-filled chambers responsible for converting sound waves into electrical impulses, which are then sent to the brain for interpretation.

Understanding the Hearing Process

  1. Sound waves enter the external ear and hit the eardrum.
  2. Eardrum vibrations set the ossicles in the middle ear into motion.
  3. Cochlear fluid movements generate electronic impulses via hair cells.
  4. These impulses are sent to the brain for interpretation.

Common Causes of Hearing Loss

  • External Ear Issues: Impacted earwax and infections
  • Middle Ear Issues: Eardrum perforation, chronic otitis media, and Eustachian tube dysfunction
  • Inner Ear Issues: Most frequently, the inner ear is the culprit behind hearing loss.

Inner Ear Problems are Often Due To:

  • Age-related changes
  • Noise exposure
  • Hereditary factors
  • Certain medical conditions, like diabetes
  • Physical trauma to the inner ear
  • Tumours on hearing or balance nerves

Diagnostic Procedures

  1. In-depth patient history and symptoms review
  2. Ear, nose, and throat examinations
  3. Specialised tests, including audiograms and tympanograms
  4. Imaging tests such as CT/MRI are required
  5. Blood tests for underlying conditions

Treatment and Preventative Measures

Treatment largely depends on the underlying cause.

  • External and Middle Ear Issues: Generally treatable with medication or surgery.
  • Inner Ear Issues: More complex, requiring ongoing treatment. Delays can affect outcomes.

Cochlear Disorders and Their Causes

  1. Bacterial or viral infection of the middle ear, inner ear, or brain from conditions such as meningitis, brain syphilis, herpes zoster of the ear, mumps, and rubella.
  2. Congenital deafness is caused by maternal rubella infections or certain medications during pregnancy. If left untreated, hearing problems can affect a child's ability to learn spoken language. Adults with hearing loss may experience communication difficulties in the workplace, which could potentially lead to job loss.

Treating Hearing Loss

  1. Otitis or middle ear infection can be treated with surgical procedures.

  2. Cochlear disorder:

    2.1 Mild symptoms that have been present for less than 1 month can be treated with oral medications.

    2.2 In cases of mild hearing loss, a hearing aid inserted into the ear or pushed deeper into the ear canal can help amplify sounds.

    2.3 In cases of severe hearing loss, where a hearing aid is not effective, a cochlear implant may be considered.

By taking timely action and avoiding risk factors like loud noises and certain medications, you can mitigate the risk of hearing loss.