Our ears are miraculous creations! They are formed early in our development process and are comprised of millions of cells working together to ensure sound awareness and speech understanding – even before we are born. Unfortunately, as we grow older, hearing loss often occurs. Hearing loss happens for several reasons. The simplest and most common explanation is that, from the time we are born, the nerve fibers that are responsible for hearing (and every other fiber in our body!) begin to deteriorate. By the time we reach our “Golden Years,” those fibers have degraded enough to cause hearing loss.
In most cases of age-related hearing loss, hearing aids are the only solution to the problem. In today’s age of advanced technology, one might think it would be easy to duplicate the precise function of the ear and hearing. Unfortunately, that is just not the case. While companies like Starkey Hearing Technologies continually get closer, it is currently impossible for any hearing technology company to precisely recreate what “normal” hearing sounds like. (I put “normal” in quotation marks because every person’s interpretation of normal hearing is different.)
Two dozen channels vs. 25,000
Put simply, hearing instruments are very similar to public address (P.A.) systems. They each consist of a microphone that picks up the sound, an “equalizer” that manipulates that sound, and a “speaker” that sends the sound to the inner ear. At current best, hearing aids can offer two dozen “channels” (imagine the sliders on the equalizer board) to help the hearing impaired capture the nuances and variances of sound.
In contrast, the human ear is an intricate system that uses all of its parts to deliver “normal” hearing. The outer ear (pinna) funnels sound into and through the ear canal to the middle ear. The shape of the ear canal gives a boost to high pitches for better speech understanding. The middle ear uses the mechanics of the tiny bones within to give additional amplification to the sound. The inner ear converts mechanical energy to electrical energy, using over 25,000 tiny hair cells to help one hear the nuances of sound (vs. the several dozen channels a hearing aid uses). Finally, the electrical energy travels through thousands of finely-tuned nerve fibers to the portion of the brain that is responsible for understanding sound. It’s easy to see why electronically duplicating this complex system is challenging, to say the least.
Watch the below video to understand how hearing works!
The next best thing to “normal” hearing
Although today’s hearing aids cannot precisely duplicate the function of the human ear, they can be of tremendous benefit to hearing impaired individuals. Digitization of sound and dedicated computer software allow hearing healthcare professionals to more precisely address hearing loss. No longer do hearing instruments easily squeal, and thanks to the automatic nature of technology, there is no need for manual volume controls. Today’s hearing aids adapt to their environment thousands of times per second to ensure the best hearing possible for their wearer.
And though they may not be able to restore your hearing back to “normal,” today’s hearing aids have gotten closer than ever. They can help restore normalcy to your quality of life by helping you clearly hear and interact with the people and activities that bring you joy.
Ready to try some hearing aids for yourself? Contact South Suburban Hearing Health Center to set up a FREE hearing consultation!