How Does the Ear Work
The outer ear consists of the pinna, the ear canal, and the eardrum. When sound waves enter the outer ear, the vibrations impact the eardrum and are transmitted to the middle and inner ear.
The middle ear consists of the ossicles (malleus, incus, stapes) and the eardrum. In the middle ear three small bones called the malleus (or hammer), the incus (or anvil), and the stapes (or stirrup) amplify and transmit the vibrations generated by the sound to the inner ear.
The inner ear consists of the cochlea, the auditory (hearing) nerve, and the brain. The inner ear contains a snail-like structure called the cochlea which is filled with fluid and lined with cells with very fine hairs. These microscopic hairs move with the vibrations and convert the sound waves into nerve impulses–the result is the sound we hear. Exposure to loud noise can destroy these hair cells and cause hearing loss!
The Perils of Exposure
As mentioned earlier, very loud sounds can damage the sensitive hair cells in your inner ear. Hair cells are the foot soldiers for your hearing. As the number of damaged hair cells increases, your brain receives fewer impulses to interpret as sound. When you damage hair cells, you damage hearing.
Exposure to high levels of noise may cause other harmful health effects as well as hearing loss. The extent of damage to the ear mostly depends on the intensity of the noise and the duration of the exposure. Hearing loss caused by noise can be temporary or permanent.
- Temporary hearing loss results from short-term exposures to noise, with normal hearing returning after a period of rest.
- Prolonged exposure to high noise levels over a period of time gradually causes permanent damage.
Loud noise can also create physical and psychological stress, reduce productivity, interfere with communication and concentration, and contribute to workplace accidents and injuries by making it difficult to hear warning signals.
Noise-induced hearing loss limits your ability to hear high frequency sounds, understand speech, and seriously impairs your ability to communicate.
The effects of hearing loss can be profound as hearing loss can interfere with your ability to enjoy socializing with friends, playing with your children or grandchildren, or participating in other social activities you enjoy, and can lead to psychological and social isolation.