The chirping of birds, the tinkling of wind chimes in a gentle wind, the laughter of a child, the melody of your favorite song, a loved one’s voice ……. all these and many more sounds combine to make our lives richer and fuller. They are delivered to our brains via the transmitters located on the sides of our heads – the ears.

? The ear acts as a transmitter of sound by processing sound waves from the outer ear to the middle ear to the inner ear, and then to the brain.

? Sound waves strike the eardrum which causes it to vibrate.

? When the eardrum vibrates, it moves the tiny ossicles (bones) from the malleus (hammer) to the incus (anvil) and then to the stapes (stirrup).

? These bones move sound to the cochlea which transmits the vibrations to the auditory nerve.

? The auditory nerve sends the message to the brain to process information.

Hearing health is of vital importance for experiencing and enjoying life, so we must take good care of our ears. There are many factors which may cause hearing loss, such as disease, infection, traumatic injury and so on. If a person experiences an immediate loss of hearing, it is most likely that he/she will immediately seek professional assistance. However, gradual hearing loss often occurs over time, and a person might not even realize that there is a problem, other than: “Why does everyone mumble these days? I can’t understand them.”

If you detect even a minor problem with your hearing, consult a professional right away. Most hearing loss cannot be recovered once it is gone. A diagnostic hearing evaluation is the first step in determining hearing capacity. This battery of tests determines the level as well as type of auditory loss. Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is a problem with the way sound is conducted to the inner ear and a structure called the cochlea. Individuals experiencing this often complain that sounds are muffled or that volumes of sound are very low.

Sensorineural hearing loss is indicated by a problem with the sensory receptors of the hearing system. An abnormality or damage to the hair cells in the chochlea may contribute to this condition. It often exhibits as ringing in the ears, hearing muffled speech and difficulty in hearing background noises, is usually permanent and may worsen over time. Neural hearing loss is due to an abnormality of the auditory nerve. It is important to have a baseline hearing test in order that medical management and/or amplification might be initiated as soon as possible.

When discussing hearing, the word “decibels” is frequently employed. Janice Anderson, Doctor of Audiology, offers this explanation: “Decibels are the measurement we use to test hearing. Less than 25 is within normal limits, 25 to 40 is mild hearing loss, 40 to 60 indicates moderate hearing loss, 60 to 90 is severe hearing loss, and above 90 indicates profound hearing loss. People speaking in a normal voices talk at about 65 decibels. So if another person has hearing loss of 30 decibels, they are missing about one-half the volume of the person speaking.”

Experts generally agree that experiencing any noise above 85 may cause hearing damage and warn everyone to wear appropriate ear plugs or ear muffs while mowing, shooting guns, in industrial settings, using noisy, heavy duty equipment such as power saws or jackhammers, and attending concerts, car races or ball games.

Earbuds are very popular and should never be shared with others This is a quick and easy way to get a serious ear infection which might lead to hearing damage. Also follow the 60/60 rule when wearing earbuds: Keep the volume below 60 percent, and limit your listening to under 60 minutes a day.

Some make the mistake of using methods such as ear candles or inserting objects like cotton swabs (or “ear twigs”) into the ear to remove excessive ear wax and clean them. Much of the time, it simply compresses the wax deeper inside. Professionals agree that washing the ear with a wash cloth will suffice. Ears naturally exfoliate themselves by shedding the skin, wax and oils the ear produces outward. If you sense a blockage or feel your ears need additional attention, visit a competent auditory professional.

Joanne Dillon of New River Valley Hearing offers this thought-provoking message: “The sense of hearing is an instrumental part of communication. Hearing is vital to socialize, communicate, work, stay connected, keep us safe and help us relax. The ear is a delicate organ that is vulnerable to many problems. Be proactive — get your hearing checked, protect your hearing, and if there is a hearing loss or ear issue, do something about it. Untreated hearing loss is linked to conditions like depression, dementia and cognitive difficulties. Keep the ears hearing. Stimulate the organ and the brain. If you don’t use it, you will lose it.”

Happy hearing is healthy hearing. Preserve this delicate treasure, and your life will be richer and fuller.

By Sheila D. Nelson

Sheila D. Nelson is a freelance writer, lifelong resident of Pulaski County and frequent contributor to “New River Valley Magazine.”