Insight #1: Hair Cells & Damaged Hearing

The Significance Of Hair Cells And How They Work

Our ears contain thousands of hair cells which act as tiny sensory receptors. These are responsible for picking up and sending sound information to the brain and so any damage to them can have a massive impact on our hearing.

There are two types of hair cells: inner and outer. On average we are born with 3,500 inner and 12,000 outer. The latter are responsible for hearing softer sounds and the individual frequencies in complex sounds. Damage to these impairs our ability to analyse and interpret complex auditory scenes as well as making it harder to understand speech in noisy environments.

Exposure to intense noises is one of the main culprits for damage to hair cells, which can happen either over time or all at once. With fewer hair cells relaying information, the sensitivity of the auditory system decreases and the ability to transmit sound signals to the brain thereby deteriorates.

Between 30-50% of outer hair cells and 85% of inner hair cells can be damaged or destroyed before changes in our hearing can be detected. This damage is usually gradual and harmful effects might continue even after the noise exposure has stopped. So, by the time you notice any loss of hearing, it may be too late.

As the cumulative effect of noise affects how well you will hear later in life, it’s important not to ignore early signs of damage, such as temporary hearing loss or tinnitus, and prevent damage by avoiding exposure to any intense sounds.

Fact: Studies indicate that among 12-35 year olds, nearly 50% are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from the use of personal audio devices. 

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