The amazing, extraordinary, stupefying intricacies of . . . your ears.

by Martin Jurek, Campbell River Hearing Clinic

Really? You saw an article about ears and you’re actually reading it? Is it really such a slow news cycle?

Since you’re here, I promise to make it worth your while. You’ll learn some really cool things about hearing, and I’ll make sure there are enough surprises along the way to keep you entertained.

We could have plastered this page with a big ad about how fantastic our hearing aids are, but Jana and I would much rather provide you with some real information, and maybe even a chuckle or two.

Speaking of my lovely wife Jana, we have a great relationship. We live together, we work together and we somehow manage to not want to kill each other. But I know most relationships have their ups and downs . . .

So what happens when your spouse nags you?

You’ve done it again. You’ve done something completely ridiculous that you didn’t even realize was ridiculous until your spouse pointed it out, making you wonder how you managed through life all those years without her or his watchful eye (see how I covered myself there?).

Words are spoken. Loud, heated words. Those words travel menacingly toward your ear in the form of sound waves, which are scooped up by your treasonous outer ear (or “pinna”) and ruthlessly amplified as they’re funnelled about 2.5 centimeters down your ear canal toward your eardrum.

Your eardrum (or “tympanic membrane”) vibrates and transmits the sound waves to your ossicular chain, comprised of a hammer (“malleus”), anvil (“incus”) and stirrup (“stapes”). These, the three smallest bones in your body, further amplify the sound and transmit it to the cochlea – a pea-sized, fluid-filled, snail-shaped (shall I go on?) cavity in your inner ear.

As an aside, do you know what the smallest muscle in the human body is? It’s the stapedius, which is about a millimeter long and controls the movement of the stapes. See, I told you you’d learn something.

The cochlea is where the magic happens. Nestled within its fluid are about 15,000 microscopic hair cells, each tuned to a different frequency. (In Canadians, a full 78% are specifically tuned to conversations about hockey and the weather.) These hair cells are connected to the cochlea nerve, which sends your spouse’s colourful adjectives to be interpreted – and, in the case of most relationships, subsequently ignored – by your brain.

And that’s how you hear.

Why should you care if you’re losing your hearing?

Sure, a decrease in hearing sensitivity gives you a perfect excuse to ignore “honey-do” lists, workplace reprimands and conversations about Roberto Luongo. On the other hand, think of everything else you’d be missing. Here are a few of the ways sounds affect us every day:

Physiologically: Hearing an alarming sound instantly triggers a shot of adrenaline and cortisol that evokes your “fight or flight” response. So really, your evolutionary survival depends on good hearing.

Psychologically: The melodic chirping of birdsong and the gentle lapping of waves on the shore are two of nature’s most calming sounds. (Pop quiz: Why are these sounds so relaxing? The answer is at the bottom of this page.) These sounds mostly occur, however, in the high frequencies, which are usually the first to go with hearing loss. 

Socially: Even with mild hearing loss, conversations take much more effort to understand. This can be extremely exhausting and eventually earn us nicknames like “Grumpy” or “Sourpuss.” And really, who wants to be the sourpuss? Undiagnosed hearing loss can quickly lead to social isolation, insecurity and, in some cases, avoidance of social situations.

Two hearing facts to impress and astound your friends

(Note: If your friends are actually impressed by “hearing facts” then you desperately need to expand your social circle – my mountain biking buddies notwithstanding.)

1. The smallest perceptible sound moves your eardrum only four atomic diameters; the loudest is a trillion times more powerful. If your eyesight had the same range, on a dark night you’d be able to see a candle flickering 48 trillion kilometres away!

2. Hearing is always on. Presuming one has “normal” hearing, it takes no effort to hear; you’re doing it every second of the day and night, even while you sleep. Listening, on the other hand, is a skill that requires active attention. In men, this skill is often lost with marriage.

The take-away

Hopefully you’ve learned something you didn’t know about hearing. If nothing else, I’ve thrown in some fancy words that may come in handy on trivia night. More importantly, I hope I’ve given you a better understanding of the importance of good hearing.

Effective communication, which is the basis for healthy relationships and pretty much everything else in our lives, depends on effective listening. And while perfect hearing doesn't guarantee you’ll be a good listener, I can guarantee you won’t be a good listener if your hearing is compromised.

If you suspect your hearing, or that of someone you know, might be less than ideal, knowing where to turn for answers is more than half the battle. We’ve provided a few resources to get you started on this website, and we'd be happy to chat more about it if and when you’re ready.

Simply call 250-914-3200 or stop in at 780-D 13th Avenue.  No pressure. No judgment. Just honest answers.

And don't forget...

If you liked what you just read, or you found it beneficial in some way, please let us know. Pop into the clinic, give us a call or send a quick email to Jana and I love what we do, and we love sharing our knowledge with you in these pages. It would really make us happy to know you’re enjoying it too!

Pop Quiz answer: Birds will cease chirping when danger is near; thus, when our prehistoric ancestors poked their heads out of their cave and heard birdsong, they knew there were no predators lurking nearby. Waves are relaxing for another reason: they lap the shore at approximately 12 cycles per minute, roughly the breathing frequency of a sleeping adult.