The ear is extremely sensitive and delicate, and the perception of sound comes about through an amazing process. As the sound vibrations travel into a normal inner ear, the cochlea, and bounce off the eardrum they affect some tens of thousands of sensory receptors, or hair cells, triggering electrical impulses from the ear to the auditory cortex of the brain and enabling you to hear and recognize the sound.
The delicate and exquisite hair cells may be damaged in many ways. They may be affected by high fever and high doses of medicine, such as aspirin and antibiotics, smoking, exposure to ototoxic chemicals and, of course, excessive noise. In addition, a small percentage of people are at particularly high risk because they are genetically disposed to damage and hearing loss through mutations or lack of certain genes. In recent years, more than 150 genes have been discovered that may be involved in the hearing process and the loss of hearing.
As inner ear hair cells are damaged, the sounds that they modulate are lost, and once the use of specific hair cells is lost, they can never regenerate.
According to researchers at the Harvard and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Institute, the hair cells appear to be particularly sensitive to noises that continue unabated. But hearing loss may also be caused from short bursts of loud, intense sounds such as gunfire or fire crackers, or it may be the result of a cumulative effect over many years. Even moderate but consistent noise may cause damaging stress to the inner ear.
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