Let’s learn about the ears! Your ear is made up of three parts: First, there is the outer ear which is the part you can see. This is called the pinna and the ear canal. Then, there is the middle ear which consists of the eardrum, three middle ear bones, and a tube that connects the middle ear to the nasal sinus cavity called the eustachian tube. Finally, there is the inner ear which is made up of the cochlea, the vestibular system, and the 8th cranial nerve. Now that we understand the basic anatomy of the ear, we can get into how those structures work to help us hear sounds! If you break it down, sounds are simply pressure waves. A wave is captured by our pinna and funneled into our ear canal to our eardrum. The ear drum then moves the three bones in the middle ear which sends an electrical pulse into the cochlea. The fine structures in the cochlea then transmit the signal up the 8th cranial nerve to our brain. And that’s how we hear music, our loved ones talking, birds chirping, and all other sounds!
Well, as we now know, there are many intricate structures in the ear and damage can occur in any of these places. A conductive hearing loss happens when sounds cannot get through the outer and middle ear meaning the damage is located in one of those sections. Sensorineural hearing loss happens when there is damage somewhere in the inner ear. Auditory processing disorder (APD) happens when the brain does not “hear” sounds in the usual way and struggles to interpret the information sent from the ears. You can read more about APD by clicking here.
Hearing aids work by increasing the amount of sound you hear at specific frequencies. Since each person will have a unique type of hearing loss, each device must be specially programmed. It is crucial for a hearing aid to be fine-tuned. This is done through a test called Real Ear Measure. You can read more about that here.
Hearing aids amplify the sound through a three-part system. First, the sound is collected by the hearing aid at the microphone ports. Depending on the type of device you have, there can be one to four microphone ports. The sound is then filtered by the technology inside the device to help decrease background noise and increase speech clarity. From there, the sound is transmitted through the receiver into the ear canal. The sound can then be processed by the ear and brain as normal. So, if there is extensive damage to the ear, hearing aids may not be the best option. This is because hearing aids still depend on the fine structures of the ear. In a case where hearing aids are no longer helpful, a cochlear implant may be recommended by your audiologist or otolaryngologist.
Hearing aid technology has come a long way in the past five years and now uses artificial intelligence to separate speech from the background noise. While the type of hearing aid device and the technology that is inside the device is an important component of quality hearing treatment, having best practice hearing aid fittings and a follow up treatment maintenance program is just as important.
To learn more about our hearing aid and treatment options, schedule an appointment with our audiologist!