Sound is a Physical Process

90 percent of information absorbed by the brain is visual. Humans are visual animals. Because we can see light, it's much easier to understand how it works. 

Unfortunately, we can't see sound waves. When someone begins going blind, they immediately notice their quality of vision failing. However, people losing their hearing usually experience other people as not talking loud enough, and ask them to "speak up". 

Hearing loss is especially frustrating because it's hard for us as humans to visualize sound as a physical process. It's hard to know how much is the fault of your own ears and how much is the fault of the outside world. 

Sound Waves

Sounds are, in essence, vibrations. They're created as a result of a transfer of energy. The transfer of energy between a dropped cup and a wood floor gives off a distinct — bang! — sound; if the cup shatters, a different sound will be produced by the energy caused by the cup coming apart.
This energy produces vibrations in the air, which travel in waves. These waves can travel through solid surfaces as well (provided they are thin enough), which is why you can usually hear things happening outside of your door.

A knock on your door is almost always heard inside a house because energy is being transferred into the inside part of the door. If someone were to, say, knock on a piece of wood an inch away from your door, it might similar outside of the house, but it wouldn't sound nearly as loud outside. 

Your Ear

Your body doesn't process "sound" until it enters your ear. Sound travels significantly slower than light does. This is why in phenomena that produce significant sights and sounds, the sight is seen before the sound is heard: i.e. fireworks. 

Sound first enters the outer ear, where it's shaped and processed for your inner ear to handle. Your ears are shaped the way they are to help your inner ear out. 

The soundwaves then make their way into your inner ear, where they hit your eardrum. Your eardrum is a membrane that vibrates in response to sound waves, much like a drum does when it's struck by a stick. 

The sound then enters your middle ear. In your middle ear, the sound wave has to be amplified.
The vibration of the eardrum sets several bones into motion, acting as a lever to deliver the sound into your inner ear. 

Your inner ear is where sound usually comes alive. When people develop hearing problems, it's generally because of problems with their inner ear. 

Your inner ear is shaped like a snail, and is known as the "cochlea". If you have heard of a "cochlear implant", this is where the name comes from. 

The cochlea contains the Corti, which is an organ that contains stereocilia, or tiny hair cells. These tiny hair cells are stimulated by different frequencies. The hair cells turn the sound waves into electric impulses and transmits them to your brain. 

The Role of the Brain

It's your brain's job, then, to interpret the signal received in the outer ear and communicated by the inner ear. Your sensory neurons transmit sound information into the various parts of your brain. The temporal lobe, auditory cortex, and thalamus are the auditory pathways the signals use to get interpreted by your brain. 

The brain is key in helping you figure out exactly which sound you're hearing. If someone's hearing is damaged, they might get the wrong signal, and they could confuse two things that sound similar — say a whimpering dog and a squeaky chair — and become confused.

How Hearing Loss Alters Our Perception

Hearing loss interferes with our ability for our body to process the sound waves that our ear takes in. Someone developing hearing loss doesn't mean that their "ear doesn't work". It might, however, mean that part of the ear is malfunctioning. 

The most common type of hearing loss is sensorineural hearing loss. This happens when stereocilia, the tiny hair cells, become damaged, usually as a result of loud noise, high-pitched frequencies, and simple aging.

However, these hearing cells can also become damaged as a result of drug use, head trauma, certain diseases, and tumors. Certain people who develop severe ear infections might come away with permanent hearing losses as a result of damaged stereocilia. 
Depending on the degree of hearing loss, and which stereocilia were damaged, different effects may occur. Someone with damage might not hear certain volumes of sounds, or certain frequencies, at all.

Others might hear most sounds fine, but have trouble with deep voices as a result of a loss of low-frequency hearing. Still others might misinterpret sounds that come in. 

Hearing loss can be scary for those who understand it. Make sure you educate yourself or your loved ones who are experiencing hearing loss. 

Understanding Hearing Loss is Important

While it can be scary to think about, understanding hearing loss and sound waves is extremely important. No one can get support for their damaged hearing if they don' know what's going on with them in the first place. 

Understand that the way the body hears in the first place, so you can better understand what has caused your hearing loss. You shouldn't worry if you can't make out certain noises — it does not mean you're going crazy. 

There is help out there for those experiencing hearing loss; contact us today for support. 
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. You should not use the information as a substitute for, nor should it replace, professional medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other health-care professional.