Eyes and ears are different, yet similar. In simple terms, the difference is what they interpret. The similarity is how they transmit and process the signals interpreted. Eyes are designed to receive visual signals that are shaped by light. The light signal is transmitted through the eyeball to the retina. There it is translated into an electrical signal and sent through the optic nerve to the brain stem and channeled to the brain. The brain is where the electrical signals are interpreted. We simply call this process “sight”.
The ear is different in that it receives (catches) sound waves. Sound waves are mechanical vibrations that enter the ear canal and vibrate the eardrum. The eardrum then transmits the vibrations through the middle ear by three tiny bones (the incus, malleus, and stapes) to the inner ear called the cochlea. The cochlea is vibrated, and about 50 thousand tiny hairs in a bed of fluid are stimulated generating electrical signals. These are transmitted through the acoustic nerve to the brain stem. From there, they are sent to the brain where the signals are interpreted.
The mediums for these two senses are images and sound, but the transmissions for both are changed to electrical energy that the brain interprets. The reason glasses or contacts work is that they change the signal the brain receives for clarity. The brain doesn’t care if it is your eyes or your eyes combined with glasses sending the signals. It just wants the correct signal. The same is true of your hearing. The brain doesn’t care if it is just your ears or your ears and a hearing instrument; it is looking for the necessary signal to bring clarity.
Another difference between your eyes and ears is the number of different environments they encounter. Your eyes deal with two main environments- light and dark. Your ears encounter thousands of different environments each day. Just sitting on your couch watching TV, your ears may pass through hundreds of changing sound environments without ever leaving the room. No matter the number of environments, if you give your eyes and ears the right signals, you get clarity. It’s really all about getting the correct signal to the brain.
What happens to many when they begin to have trouble with their vision or hearing is the degradation of the eyes or ears ability to send the correct signals to the brain. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but may go unnoticed because it occurs gradually rather than all at once. Unless you’ve suffered a sudden major hearing loss, your decreased abilities may become your assumed norm as the changes go on undetected.
To correct this, hearing instruments are programmed with your personal settings (Rx). This gives you back what you are missing just like glasses or contacts adjust the signals from your eyes to your individual needs. The biggest challenge for hearing instruments is noise and how it’s handled. That is why there are many different technologies available. The greater the amount of noise and the more environments you are in on a regular basis increase the technology required to help you.
The best hearing professionals follow the protocols of auditory rehabilitation. It should never be about buying something. It should be all about correcting your brain’s ability to understand speech. This should be done in steps so your brain can acclimate with each step toward what you need. This is similar to strengthening any other part of your body. If you haven’t exercised in a very long time, you can’t just immediately run 10 miles. You have to acclimate your body to running again by starting with shorter distances and gradually making increases. Additionally, verification of improvement and adjustments must be made regularly to reach the optimum goal for each patient. If your improvement plateaus, it may be possible to change technologies so you can continue reaching higher levels of speech understanding.
Hearing loss is a disability that for most can be successfully corrected and maintained for the rest of their lives. Delayed treatment can have adverse effects on your health physically and emotionally. Plus, some of your loss can become irreversible over time. Early detection and correction can save your ability to understand and enjoy life!