What can cause hearing loss?

POSTED: 01:48 PM MST Jan 30, 2014 
Listening

By Mayo Clinic News Network

Some causes of hearing loss include damage to the inner ear, a buildup of earwax, infections and a ruptured eardrum. To understand how hearing loss occurs, it can be helpful to understand how you hear.

How you hear

Hearing occurs when sound waves reach the structures inside your ear, where the sound wave vibrations are converted into nerve signals that your brain recognizes as sound.

Your ear consists of three major areas: outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. Sound waves pass through the outer ear and cause vibrations at the eardrum. The eardrum and three small bones of the middle ear -- the hammer, anvil and stirrup -- amplify the vibrations as they travel to the inner ear. There, the vibrations pass through fluid in the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure in the inner ear.

Attached to nerve cells in the cochlea are thousands of tiny hairs that help translate sound vibrations into electrical signals that are transmitted to your brain. The vibrations of different sounds affect these tiny hairs in different ways, causing the nerve cells to send different signals to your brain. That's how you distinguish one sound from another.

How hearing loss can occur

Causes of hearing loss include:

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hearing-loss/basics/causes/con-20027684