Hearing management

05 October 2010

Get greener hearing

Hearing loss means you use more energy trying to identify sounds - find out how it works, and how you can get greener hearing.


Did you know that hearing loss costs you energy? For the first time in our history, we human beings are becoming truly aware of our impact on energy usage and fossil fuel consumption. I don’t want you to use up unnecessary resources. This is why I encourage you to have your hearing checked.

How hearing works

Hearing well requires an incredibly efficient system, fed at cellular level by your oxygen and fuel intake. When we are listening, a million processes are happening in a very short period of time. Speech and sound, the briefest of signals, are changing constantly in our environments, and so we must hear alterations of less than 10 milliseconds. The sounds travel down our ear canals and beat on our eardrums, causing a mechanical chain of bones to move at the same number of cycles per second, or, what you hear as pitch.

A second membranous drum does the same thing at the entrance to the inner ear or cochlear. Fluid in the cochlear vibrates and stimulates tiny little nerve endings, called hair cells. This causes a chemical encoding of the sounds, which jumps the gap between our ear’s nerve beginnings, and the nerve pathway, or Auditory Nerve.

This creates electrical impulses up the nerve, feeding the brain. Brain cells interpret the sound using our memory and association to give it meaning. Then we must hold our attention on only one sound, to concentrate and lift it out of its background.

How much energy does hearing use?

You can bet that you have to burn a furnace to keep your hearing energised all day long!

So what about a breakdown in the system? Think of a simple light bulb: it emits light but heats up in the process- which is an efficiency problem which results in energy loss. So if an existing system develops a fault, it will use more energy than it has ever done before.

People with hearing loss have to concentrate far harder than normal hearers. Their ear system has lost efficiency due to their reduction in audibility. As the detection part of the system (the ear) changes, more work has to be done by the identification and decoding part of the nerve and brain. It has to guess at the missing parts- such as when you play hangman, and guess at missing letters.

This leads to tremendous fatigue and irritability on the part of the hearer, because he must use more resources to hear in quiet, and even more in noise.

Most people with even a small hearing impairment will begin to have more difficulty in noise, and sometimes give up on social interaction, over time becoming more isolated, withdrawn, and tired. We have such a wonderful life. Get greener hearing and have your hearing assessed.

(Natalie Buttress, Audiologist, September 2010)

More info:

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Ask the Expert

Hearing Expert

Francis Slabber is a Speech & Language Therapist and Audiologist who has owned and run The Hearing Clinic in Wynberg, Cape Town for the last 17 years. Francis and her team have extensive experience in fitting and supplying hearing aids as well as assistive living devices. Francis has served as the Western Cape Chairperson for the South African Association of Audiologists for three years and has given many talks on the topic of hearing loss and amplification. The Hearing Clinic has a special interest in adult and geriatric hearing impairment, hearing aid fittings and hearing rehabilitation.

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