How We Hear
There are two distinct parts to hearing and it’s important to understand how they work together to allow you to hear.
As sound waves travel down our ears, they ultimately reach and stimulate 40,000 tiny modified hair cells in the cochlea (inner ear). These hair cells “wave” at different frequencies and in doing so stimulate the cochlea to send electrical signals to the brain. The brain then interprets these signals as “sounds”, either noise or speech or some combination of the two.
Typically as people age or other conditions arise (e.g. exposure to loud noises or certain types of medicines) the hair cells can die and when they do, they aren’t replaced. When this happens, our ability to hear in those specific frequency range(s) is diminished. Over time without stimulation in that frequency range the brain may begin to lose it’s ability to understand these signals. Certain medical conditions can also impact the brains ability to interpret the nerve impulses as they arrive from the ear.
During a comprehensive hearing evaluation, your audiologist will test the inner ear by supplying “pure tones” sufficiently loud to stimulate the hair cells to respond. This tests the first component of hearing. Your audiologist should also measure the brains ability to interpret these sounds by testing for speech recognition. This is the second or “understanding” component of hearing. On occasion there may be a third test or “bone conduction” evaluation performed depending on the results of the first two tests.
Once the multi-part testing is complete you should receive an honest and thorough explanation of the test results, what they mean to you and how it impacts your life-style. The audiologist may offer suggestions such as compensating techniques which can be used to aid you as well as discuss hearing aids and how they might impact your life. Hearing aids are not always the only or best solution.