Audiologists love to say "we don't hear with our ears, we hear with our brain." And it's a long, complex, beautiful route to get from the ear canal to the centers in the brain that process sound. As we are learning during our intern's Summer of Sound, pinpointing the site that's responsible for the hearing loss along that pathway is extremely important for determining the best treatment method for delivering sound to the patient. Hearing loss can arise from any point(s) along the auditory pathway:
The most common hearing losses we see are from the point of where sound enters the ear (like a plug of ear wax!) to the middle ear (this could be an ear infection, middle ear fluid, or damage to the middle ear bones) to the cochlea (for example, exposure to loud sound, genetic causes, age-related). Hearing aids and cochlear implants can deliver sound via the auditory nerve up to the higher level sound processing centers.
But what happens if there is no auditory nerve, or a very compromised one? Here is a story about a young girl, Jiya Bavishi, who did not gain access to sound through traditional hearing aids or a cochlear implant, but through a new device called an Auditory Brainstem Implant. Read more and hear her story on NPR!