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Reversible Hearing Loss

An alternative to earplugs
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An acquaintance of mine once described an unusual hearing problem he had. It seems he went to sleep wearing earplugs (not a very soft foam type), and while asleep his head got into a position where the earplug was forced up against the eardrum and somehow dislocated it, or maybe one of the middle-ear bones. (We know nothing was broken because of what will be described shortly.)

The net result was that when he took out the earplug, which was good for about 30 decibels of attenuation, he couldn't hear very well in that ear. He estimated that compared to the other ear, the hearing loss was about the same as if he had still been wearing the earplug.

The peculiar thing is, he discovered that by manipulating the flesh on the side of his head near that ear, his hearing could be made to return to normal. He switched to a different type of hearing protection, and the ear problem eventually healed up.

Well! Obviously I don't know the exact details of what happened inside that guy's ear, but suppose something like this could be deliberately arranged, for easy and reliable adjustment of one's hearing ability (even if only two-level, "normal" and "weak")?

You would almost never need to wear hearing protection, because a considerable amount would be sort-of "built in".

When you activated this oddball temporary hearing loss, it would not be as obvious as wearing earplugs.

Since some people consider earplugs unsightly, it could be possible that more people would actually choose to do this to protect their hearing, when working or playing in an excessively noisy environment.

Finally, on occasion it could be a useful and unobvious way to help "tune out" someone you didn't want to listen to.

Vernon, Apr 14 2010

Hearing loss trends http://www.hearingl...auses/nihl/asha.htm
If there was an easy and no-fuss way to protect hearing, more people might actually do it. [Vernon, Apr 14 2010]

Pharmacologic reversible hearing loss. http://www.biomedce...l.com/1472-6815/7/4
[bungston, Apr 14 2010]

Herring loss is due to humpback whales! http://www.boston.c...herring_loss_study/
[DrBob, Apr 16 2010]

Middle Ear bones http://thestar.com....sf_05middle_ear.jpg
Hammer, Anvil, and Stirrup [csea, Jul 15 2010]


       With this solution, just because you can't hear the loud noise, it doesn't mean it's not damaging your hearing.
hippo, Apr 14 2010

       [hippo], as you probably know, sound vibrations are converted to nerve impulses inside the cochlea and that mechanism is somewhat delicate. Permanent hearing loss is often associated with damage in there. And of course if the eardrum ruptures, or the small middle-ear bones break, those also can be big problems.   

       Of those three main problems, the last two are USUALLY associated with impacts to the head, not sound waves. Meanwhile, cochlear damage usually depends on intense sounds reaching the innards of the cochlea --a person can hear those loud sounds even as damage occurs. The evidence of this case indicates that intense sounds simply weren't arriving in the cochlea, else they would have been hear-able!   

       So, what sort of damage did you have in mind?
Vernon, Apr 14 2010

       I know someone who pushed an earplug in too far and couldn't get it out, and said it was one of the most painful things he'd ever felt.
mitxela, Apr 14 2010

       There is a proven pharmacologic method to accomplish this sort of reversible hearing loss, linked. It may have to do with tone of the small muscles associated with the tympanic membrane.
bungston, Apr 14 2010

       [bigsleep], I'm pretty sure, but not certain, that the ear-popping thing has to do with the "eustachian tubes" that connect the inside of the mouth to the ears. The tubes are narrow and surrounded by malleable flesh; I imagine they are often squeezed shut. This means air on the inside of the ear is held at a constant pressure, unless/until you open the tubes up with that ear-popping jaw-muscle motion. Then pressure can equalize.
Vernon, Apr 14 2010


       I recall reading in a science magazine about a drug which caused temporary reduction of hearing sensitivity in mice. Not only that, but it also provided some protection against hearing damage due to loud noises. I was hoping you were going to suggest that drug, in a pill or skin patch form.   

       Unfortunately, I don't recall enough of the details of the article to find it through google...
goldbb, Apr 15 2010

       " Can you artificially pop something in ? " [bigsleep]   

       Ask any scuba diver, they have to manipulate their eardrums in and out in order to ascend / descend.   

       I've experienced tinnitus as a result of tequila consumption (only the good stuff, Herradura Anejo in this case). Took most of a day for it to go away.   

       Also experienced one-ear hearing loss from running a fan as a white noise generator ( I am cursed with excellent hearing, fly-sneeze at 500 yards and all that).   

       The ear on the pillow worked normal, but the up ear could no longer hear the fan after a night of sleeping on one side. I woke up thinking the fan had ceased running in the night, but when I lifted my head I learned differently.
normzone, Apr 15 2010

       Sorry for veering off topic again but I'm kind of fascinated by this.
[normzone] when I took my open water dive course the instructors and, well, everyone I dove with were weirded out that I didn't need to hold my nose while decending in order to equalize the pressure in my ears. I just make this slight clicking motion with the back of my tongue while doing a sort of yawn thing and they clear continuously on the way down and up.

       It gave me the impression that this was uncommon.
It turns out to be very common with vs sufferers and I wondered if you know many divers who can automatically equalize ear pressure.

       Google "valsalva" and all the other techniques like old school fighter pilots evolved.
normzone, Apr 15 2010

       Will do. Thanks.   

Interesting. I can open my eustachian tubes without any movement of my jaw at all and hold them open so that my breathing sounds kind of Darth Vader-ish.

       [fries], I always knew you were special. Let's hoist some pints soon :-)
normzone, Apr 15 2010

       //Ask any scuba diver, they have to manipulate their eardrums in and out in order to ascend / descend.//
Extraordinary!, As a former scuba diver I always used my Adjustable Bouyancy Life Jacket in order to ascend/descend!.
I have to equalise the pressure by manipulating my nose/Eustachian Tubes and Eardrums in order to ascend and descend in a pain free fashion though!
gnomethang, Apr 15 2010

       Sounds good Norm, I'll drop you an email after work.
First round's on me.

       Thanksalot [2fries] I've been burping solidly for the last 15 minutes.
FlyingToaster, Apr 16 2010

       I was about to post a new scheme: Deaf Drops, to temporarily thicken the tympanic membrane. These would chiefly be for dogs who were scared of thunder, but people might use them at rock concerts etc. Similar to what Vernon proposes here.   

       I suspect the guy described had inflammation and thickening of the eardrum because of the earplug.
bungston, Jul 15 2010

       There are 3 tiny bones in the middle ear that match the mechanical impedance between the eardrum and the cochlear "oval window." [link] These bones, called malleus (hammer,) incus (anvil,) & stapes(stirrup,) are held supported by muscle tissue which can be pharmaceutically stiffened, resulting in loss of hearing sensitivity.   

       It seems possible that in place of the drug, some means of electrically stiffening the appropriate muscles could be done, and would have the advantage of rapid operation (on/off.)   

       In fact, I seem to recall that loud impulse noises (BANGs) cause a reflex which automatically tightens up these muscles (although it doesn't act instantaneously.) The brain figures out that the muscles have been stiffened, and the sound still seems LOUD, even though the cochlea receives an softer signal. Google "cochlear mechanics" for more.   

       (haha, I remember having subscriptions to Cochlear Mechanics and Chochlear Electronics years ago. Oh, guess they were "Popular...")
csea, Jul 15 2010


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