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Facts about hearing

The ear is a remarkable and intricate organ. Read more about how it works.

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Hearing Loss

1 in 6 adults experience some degree of Hearing Loss

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How hearing works

The ear, despite its small size, is a highly complex organ. Acting as sound filter, the ear transforms every sound audible to us into accurate information the brain can prioritise.

Each ear consists of delicate and highly complex mechanisms. In “the inner” ear, a sea of tiny sensory cells and nerve fibres pick up sound vibrations and transform them into electrical impulses for the brain to process.
If the ear is exposed to strong vibrations over time, the sensory cells and fibres can become damaged, if these are unable to heal or be replaced, this can lead to permanent hearing loss.

Anatomy

The ear is made up of three parts:
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Why is hearing important?

Hearing empowers us and enriches our lives. Hearing enables us to socialise, work, interact, communicate and even relax. Good hearing also helps to keep us safe, warning us of potential danger or alerting us to someone else’s distress.

Hearing is essential for us to be able to live and participate in life more fully. Problems with our hearing may lead to feelings of isolation and even depression. Our hearing provides us with an enormous source of information, some of it obvious and some we barely notice but when combined, this information forms the bridge between the world and how we interact with it.

Hearing helps us lead our everyday lives without limitations.

Everyday situations that can be affected by hearing loss:
hearing at work

At work

  • Participating in group meetings
  • Talking on the telephone
  • Following a conversation in a busy office
hearing at social occasions

At social occasions

  • Chatting to friends
  • Participating in dinner conversation at a restaurant
  • Interacting with grandchildren
  • Talking on the telephone
  • Watching TV together with others
hearing for safety

Hearing is also necessary for our own safety

  • When walking near busy roads
  • To be able to hear sounds that alert us to danger like sirens and other traffic signals
  • So we can be alert to a cry for help
hearing and learning

... and is important when we learn

  • Allowing us to maintain a high level of concentration with little effort
  • So we are able to communicate with instructors
  • So we are able to register information accurately

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Keeping up in conversation

Many people know it can be challenging to follow conversations in some places, like in a noisy restaurant. The reason for this is that speech is made up of a great number of different sounds, put together in a very rapid flow.
Some letters are heard better than others

For instance, the high-pitched consonants like f, s and t are easily drowned out by louder, low pitched vowels like a, o and u.

The reason for the brain drain

When it comes to hearing, it may come as a surprise to learn that the brain works harder than the ears, this is why in noisy environments, such as in a crowded restaurant, it can be very frustrating just trying to follow conversation. Even people with no hearing loss can find this challenging.

Faced with noisy situations, our cognitive system works hard to decipher and separate sounds. Someone with only slight hearing loss can often feel exhausted after visiting a noisy venue.

Ordinarily your brain will be able to sort through all information you apply your attention to through a cognitive process: Simply the brain organises, selects and follows.

Organise Select Follow
organise select follow
1

A good mental map of the current sound environment.
2

Allowing the listener to select a desired source.

3

Enhances the ability to follow the source over time as knowledge about the selected source is accumulated

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Protect Your Hearing

It´s no surprise to learn that as we live our lives we are exposed to vast amounts of sounds at all different levels. Sounds that exceed 85 dB SPL are usually considered harmful.

What you may not realise is that 85 db SPL equates to the sound of noisy traffic. Loud music such as in nightclubs or at rock concerts is around 100 db SPL.

Regular exposure to sounds at or over 85 db SPL do irreversible damage but the good news is that we can protect our hearing and take simple steps to prevent possible damage or further damage.

A few tips to help protect your hearing
turn down loud

Turn down loud appliances if possible

  • At home, turn down the volume on the television, radio, stereo and MP3 player.
  • Reduce the number of noisy appliances running at the same time.
  • Buy quieter products (compare dB ratings – the smaller the better).
move away

Move away from the source

  • Stay as far away from the source of noise as possible.
  • Walk away when sounds get too loud.
wear ear protection

Wear ear protection when working with noisy equipment like lawn mowers or leaf blowers

  • Use ear protection wherever possible
  • When you are exposed to sudden loud noises (e.g. a jackhammer), cup your hands over your ears or put a fingertip into each canal.

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