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The science behind hearing loss

Diagram of the ear.

Gemma Twitchen, Head of audiologyGemma Twitchen, our Senior Audiologist, explains how you hear music and how this can damage your hearing.

How you hear music

From stereo to inner ear

When you hear sound it travels through the external ear, through the ear canal and hits the ear drum. The sound waves make the ear drum move. This causes the little bones in the middle ear, behind the ear drum, to vibrate. This passes the sound through the middle ear, into the inner ear.

Inner ear: the cochlear

Housed in the inner ear is the cochlea – a fluid filled chamber that looks a bit like a snail shell and is where you find the sensory hair cells.  When the vibrations from the middle ear enter the cochlea it causes the fluid to move and the sensory hair cells pick up this movement.

Hair cells

In response to the movement of the fluid the hair cells send an electrical signal up the auditory nerve to the brain where it’s recognised as sound. Different hair cells will respond to different pitches of sound.

How noise damages your hearing

When you’re exposed to loud noise for prolonged periods of time hair cells can get damaged. Once hair cells are damaged they can’t be replaced or repaired. That’s when you start noticing hearing loss.

Different hair cells respond to different pitches of sound, and the hair cells that respond to higher pitch sounds are more susceptible to noise damage than other hair cells. This leads to hearing loss at higher pitches.

Exposure to noise is also one of the factors leading to tinnitus.

Once your hair cells in your ear are damaged they can’t be repaired or replaced, so the best idea is to protect your hearing, so the damage doesn’t occur in the first place.

This will reduce your chances of noise induced hearing loss in the long term.

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