Monthly Archives: May 2013

“Hear’s” to the Professional

Last weekend I went back in time. Some of you who have read my blog from the beginning may recall that I was once the executive director of an organization called VOICE for Hearing Impaired Children. I left more than 17 years ago but last weekend was transported back to my VOICE days when I attended its annual conference.

It was wonderful to reconnect with so many people – primary professionals, as the children I knew from my days at VOICE are grown up and most are no longer actively involved. What struck me was the dedication of these professionals – Teachers of the Deaf, Auditory-Verbal Therapists and others – devoting their own time on one of the nicest spring weekends so far this year to learn about the latest in listening therapies and technological supports so they could better help their charges back home. One of the participants is actually retired but comes back year after year to share her knowledge and wisdom.

The Audiologist who writes the monthly posts on this blog is a good friend of mine and was coerced into doing this over a few glasses of wine. He loves it, does it totally on his own time and enjoys the fact that he is helping others to understand better what hearing impairment is all about and how it can affect both the person who is deaf and his or her family. One thing I have always found difficult to clearly explain to others is why I may be able to hear the words but not understand them. Glen’s most recent post about how those of us with sensori-neural loss hear distorted sounds was one of the best explanations of this challenge.

The two Hearing Aid Specialists who make sure my hearing aid is in working order and cheered me on when I was getting ready for the cochlear implant are ready to help me at the drop of a hat. I’ve known both of them since they first started their work and they just get better every year.

My cochlear implant Audiologist at Sunnybrook treats every small success with the same enthusiasm as me and shares my dismay when I am not moving forward as quickly as I would like. She reassures me that I am making good progress and instills confidence in my ability to make this work. We are partners on the journey. She is continually searching out supports for me, is always ready to help with every challenge and answers every question. I am never hurried during my time with her.

I wear a hearing aid in one ear but I also have a personal F/M system that helps me in group situations. Imagine my panic late one Friday evening a few years ago when the F/M didn’t work and I had a workshop to lead the next day. Well there is a helpline for Phonak, the company that manufactures both my hearing aid and the F/M. I called and was immediately connected to a live Audiologist who told me exactly what I needed to do and waited until I was satisfied that all was in working order. I had the feeling that if the system failed again she would express a new one overnight.

The point of all this is that I think we are very lucky to have such wonderful professionals working to help those of us who are deaf understand and hear better, whether we are babies, teenagers or adults, wear one hearing aid or have cochlear implants. They are all interested in one goal – making life better for us.

I know there are some professionals around who just pay lip service to this goal. I’ve met some of them over the years. But the majority really do care. So if there isn’t a ‘day’ for hearing care professionals and because May is known as ‘hearing month’, let me proclaim May 9th as my own ‘hear’s to the professional’. Thank you a million times over.

Sensori-neural hearing loss

Depending on where you are experiencing problems in your ear will determine what type of hearing loss you have and what help you can get to improve your particular situation. If you have not already done so, you might find it helpful to read my previous posts. If you think a picture of the auditory or hearing system would be helpful while you read this post, simply, type, “anatomy/images of the ear” into your favourite browser and you will see many links to pictures of the ear.

Today’s post will focus post on sensori-neural hearing loss. When you get your hearing tested, you undergo a series of tests which help the clinician ascertain which type of hearing loss you have. The results of the tests also help the clinician recommend how you can best be helped depending on your type of hearing loss.

The ear per se is divided into three sections: the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. Generally speaking, sounds are “conducted” from the environment around us down our ear canals, causing our ear drums to vibrate. The movement of the ear drums cause the bones in the middle ear to vibrate against the oval windows which sit at the entrance of the inner ear. The inner ear hair cells change the vibrations from the middle ear into electrical impulses which are sent along the auditory nerve to the brain which makes sense of the things we hear around us.

Because the outer and middle ears are responsible for “conducting” sounds to the inner ears, anything that can go wrong with the outer and/or middle ears results in “conductive” hearing loss. For more information about conductive hearing loss, please go to my previous post (April 2013).

Sensori-neural hearing loss, typically referred to as “nerve deafness”, occurs when damage most often occurs in the “inner” ear but can also occur along the hearing nerve.
Approximately 90% of people who have hearing impairment have sensori-neural hearing loss, making it the most common type of hearing impairment. Generally speaking, sensori-neural hearing loss is permanent and irreversible.

Most common causes of sensori-neural hearing loss include; but are not limited to:
• Aging
• Exposure to loud noise
• Viral infections
• Ototoxic drugs
• Head injury
• Genetic or hereditary predisposition

Generally speaking, because the problems associated with sensori-neural hearing loss result from damage to many of the hundreds of thousands of inner ear hair cells or the auditory nerve, the signals (messages) transmitted to the brain are not complete and, therefore, distorted and incomprehensible. Those who suffer from this condition may complain that people seem to mumble or that they hear, but do not understand, what is being said; they HEAR sounds but not always clear enough to DISCERN OR UNDERSTAND what is being said.

For a moment, liken the inner ear to a pedal (concert) harp which is a large, modern harp. Typically, it has 46 or 47 strings with a range of six and one-half octaves. If you were to listen to a song played on a harp that is in perfect working order, you would be able to hear the music from the harp AND discern or understand the song that is being played. However, if you remove half of the strings and listen to the same song being played, you would hear that “something” is being played on the harp but, most likely, you would not be able to discern or understand what song is being played!

Imagine the following sentence to be what it would be like to hear through an intact or healthy auditory system:


When a person experiences a severe sensori-neural hearing loss, the same sentence would look something like the following sentence:

–E wI– b-OW- -og –Um- – – O-er –e la-y gOg-.

This sentence attempts to illustrate that sounds are getting through to the inner ear but, because so many hair cells in the inner ear are damaged, the signals (messages) transmitted to the brain are distorted and incomprehensible.

The brain receives a message and hears sound but the message is distorted so the brain has trouble deciphering what the message means!

In the vast majority of cases, sensori-neural hearing loss is not medically or surgically treatable. However, most people with sensori-neural loss notice a great deal of benefit from wearing some form of amplification devices (hearing aids, bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA), cochlear implants, etc.).

Treating any hearing loss depends on prompt diagnosis and treatment. All hearing losses should be evaluated by an audiologist and physician to explore all potential treatment options.
Glen Sutherland, MCISc


Please note that the information in this blog is presented for the purpose of providing information and should not be used for medical diagnosis or treatment nor should it be used in place of medical advice from your doctor or hearing health care professional.