When it comes to hearing loss, especially the types of hearing loss, many of us are in the dark. So we've rounded up come of the most fascinating facts about hearing to give you a little more insight. From hearing health to hearing aid use, types of earwax to sound waves, we've got it all. Get reading to find out five facts about hearing that'll have you saying, 'how did I not know that?':
1. Hearing loss isn't exclusive to older people – The majority of cases happen in those under 65
All too often, people think of hearing loss as an 'old people' thing. But in fact, many instances of hearing loss occur in those under the age of 65. While it's true older people are more likely to have degenerative hearing loss; there's more than one way to experience hearing loss. A single exposure to loud noise can lead to permanent hearing damage, for example. Noisy, persistent background noise is another cause. In scientific terms, over eight hours of exposure to 90 dB will cause harm to your hearing. One instant of a very high decibel noise – such as a gunshot at 140 dB – can have the same effect in seconds.
Genetic and injury-based factors are also common for hearing loss. As you might expect, these often occur at a younger age too. As the smallest bones in our body, it's no surprise our ears are easier to damage than most. For some, a misplaced cotton swab can lead to hearing loss – which proves our hearing health can be affected by just about anything. Auditory nerve damage may also lead to hearing loss. Realistically, there are many different causes of hearing loss. But the consensus is: hearing loss isn't just for the elderly. It can happen to anyone, at any age.
2. Earwax is actually pretty good for your ears
We often think of earwax in the same was as boogers. It's a gross thing that we generally don't want in our bodies – but is that true biologically? You may want to give up the ear candling because a certain amount of wax is reasonable and healthy for our bodies. Earwax is a sticky combination of sweat, skin cells, and oil. It forms a protective barrier within the middle ear, keeping the area clean and healthy. So from that perspective, a bit of wax is a good thing.
Despite earwax being an active filter, there are some instances where it can also indicate a problem. Wet earwax may suggest an infection, while dry earwax is healthier. It's worth visiting an audiologist if your wax is causing problems with hearing loss or other issues. Warm water and a cotton swab may be prescribed in mild cases. But generally, your ears and their wax is best left alone. It's also worth noting that different types of earwax are seen in those from different cultures. This discovery has even been used to study migration in early humans. Maybe earwax is a handy thing to have around after all.
3. You never stop hearing – even when you're asleep at night
It's a strange thing to think that your body doesn't shut off when you do for the night. While specific processes slow down, your body never stops – for obvious reasons. You still need to breathe and digest, of course. But one body function you may not know is on 24/7 is your hearing. Even in a deep sleep, we can still have sound waves making their way down the ear canal and being interpreted by our ever-ready brain. Your brain then chooses whether to block the noise out, completely autonomously of you.
This is the reason why loud noises – a child crying, something falling, or an alarm going off – wakes us up in the night. We're always listening, whether we want to or not. By contrast, when we hear things in our dreams, that's entirely created by our brains. Our ears, or auditory nerves, aren't involved in the process of making up sounds. Our minds alone achieve that all by themselves. According to scientific study, the ability to hear and wake ourselves from sound when we sleep is because of the smart 'vigilance' system in our brains. It means that we can sleep through traffic yet wake up at the sound of a baby crying or a child calling for mommy or daddy — very smart stuff.
4. Our ears are amongst the most essential parts of our balancing system
If you've ever had an ear infection, you've likely felt the sense of being off-balance. This is because our ears directly impact our balance. Our inner ear is full of fluid, which moves when you do and signals straight to your brain. This clever fluid can even tell when we're standing, lying, or looking up or down. So, when you get an ear infection, everything gets a bit off-kilter. One of the most significant symptoms of an ear infection is vertigo. This condition often makes you feel dizzy or shaky and can often lead to nausea.
Combined with your eyes and our joints, the inner ear forms a large part of our overall ability to balance. Other warning signs you're off balance includes leaning one way more than the other or falling over more often. If you're struggling with balance, seeing a general practitioner or even an audiologist is a great place to start. Infections in a single ear are often worse, as they make us feel more off-balance in general. This effect can be seen in our pets, as they will often tilt their heads when they have ear infections and cannot balance.
5. Using a hearing aid can prevent hearing loss from getting worse
Another fact that you may not be aware of. Hearing aids can actively provide a way to prevent hearing loss from becoming worse. While certain types of genetic or age-related hearing loss cannot be avoided, others can. For example, hearing loss caused by a high-decibel sound or injury can be maintained at the same level if adequately managed. What hearing aids provide is a way to comprehend sounds better. While this doesn't directly impact the damage on your ears, it does help your brain to stay active and engaged.
Hearings aids help your brain to comprehend incoming sounds and information. Whether it's a loss of certain tones or decreased hearing overall, not being able to listen to what's going on around you can directly impact the auditory processing in your brain. Hearing aids prevent these parts from atrophying by bringing them back into constant use. By pushing your brain to start comprehending sound and translating it again, it's possible to maintain a level of hearing loss without making your hearing worse over time. Sounds more than worth it to us.