The ear can be divided into three sections, the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. Hearing loss or pain in the outer or middle ear is often easy to treat. However, when our hearing sensory organ—the cochlea—in the inner ear is damaged, permanent hearing loss is the result. This is also known as sensori-neural hearing loss. Inside the cochlea we have these fragile hair cells, or cilia, that take an electrical signal and convert this to a chemical signal. This chemical signal is then transmitted to the auditory nerve and sound processing centers in the brain. The hair cells are laid out from low to high frequencies, much like the keys of a piano go from low to high notes. When this strip of hair cells is rolled into the cochlea, high frequency hair cells, the ones closest to the the cochlea’s opening, are the ones most exposed to potential injury. This is why we usually lose our hearing up in the higher frequencies as we age. Once these tiny hair cells are damaged, hearing loss is the inevitable result.
Can Hearing Aids Help?
Hearing aids are helpful for some people suffering with tinnitus. Theories describing the onset of tinnitus explain how the tinnitus sound occurs in the frequencies that are lost. Therefore, a hearing aid may help: 1) it gives us more sound stimulation, and 2) it allows more sound to enter the ear, providing the ear and brain with enough stimulation so that tinnitus is not triggered. Your audiologist can fit you with hearing aids to see if using them could be helpful.