GENERAL ARTICLES

AN EARFUL

HUGH GRANT ROWELL March 15 1933
GENERAL ARTICLES

AN EARFUL

HUGH GRANT ROWELL March 15 1933

AN EARFUL

HUGH GRANT ROWELL

IF A ZEBRA on the African veldt loses a portion of his hearing, it’s not a matter of very serious concern except to himself.

In a few hours he will have become a choice assortment of steaks and chops for his friend, the lion, in whose menu zebra is always a delectable morsel. Any misery is over quite quickly and everybody but the late victim is happy.

But let a human being and his ears get into discord and the result is unsavory hash—hash of life for the victim and to a less extent for all concerned. Both are going to be unhappy ever after unless . . . It’s the “unless” that is important in this day and age.

Before giving the exact specifications of the “unless,” it may be well to ask publicly what everyone is now demanding in private, namely, “What is happening to our ears? And why?”

Within the past few weeks I was astounded at the results of our study of a group of high school girls who supposedly had every advantage and service that thoughtful parents could provide. Just about one-fifth of these girls showed a detectable impairment in hearing. What gave us considerably more concern was the fact that the percentage among the younger group in the elementary school was not nearly so high. Ergo, as children grew older ears got into trouble even under the best of care.

Trouble there is with ears—plenty of it. Statistics from England are appalling. And in the United States it is stated that about twenty million persons have some degree of hearing loss, three million of the twenty being children of school age. General estimates for Canada are unavailable. In all probability the situation is similar to that across the border, since the two countries resemble each other considerably in climate and living habits.

For trouble there must be a cause. What’s the matter with our ears? First of all, is the ear lying down on the job because it is a pxx>r specimen of molding of mortal clay? What does a consideration of the ear itself reveal?

Bacteria Play Hide and Seek

THE EAR, like all Gaul, is divided into three parts.

That portion which every schoolboy wishes to wiggle and every lady of any age tries to conceal, is a sort of antenna for catching sound. Nature has decreed that we need not wear the prominent ears of the deer,

rabbit or musical mule in these days when we are hunted not by aborigines or beasts of prey, but only by Nimrods in gasoline buggies. And we ourselves hunt not for denizens of the wilds, but for pleasing compliments however softly spoken. But even with our present size ears we pick up too much sound, especially when the milkman pays his morning call or a large steel-bodied van gaily rattles by, delivering a load of coal.

Sounds, agreeable or otherwise, enter the head via the ear canal -a tunnel used by children as a repository for beans, peas, candy and other portables, and by many adults as a playground for exercising hairpins and other scooping apparatus in the game called “Hunting the Wax”—a major sport best left to physicians who know the playing rules.

The ear canal, en route into the head, takes a course with all the indirectness of a woman shopper heading for the stocking counter in a department store.

Having caught our sound on our antennae—which are also available for pulling and boxing —we bounce it against a little fiat tab of skin and gristle called the tragus, which acts partly as a protector of the canal opening and partly as a sounding-board to steer noise down the twisting ear canal.

When the sound reaches the end of the canal, “ping” it goes against the drum, a delicate parchment like partition and resonator. This “ping” is sound’s way of knocking at the door of the next chamber of the ear, having passed through the first portion of the sound-conducting apparatus.

This delicate drum is surprisingly strong. It will bear with equanimity or even pleasure an ordinary noise. But the boom of a cannon or a blast of air driven against it in diving improperly may and does tear this membrane asunder.

Back of the drum is a tiny cavity, compared with which your fingernail is gigantic. This cavity, the middle ear, has another entry, intended by Nature as a means of balancing the air pressure on each side of the drum but used by bacterial thieves and other miscreants to steal into the ear from the throat, entering this Eustachian tube at its doorway near the tonsils and adenoids. That’s how colds and other nose and throat afflictions go wandering off into the I ear. and tum a storm in the throat into a tempest in the ear. Other pathways from the throat and nose lead into other chambers, the sinuses of the skull, for example. An ill-intentioned bacterium has altogether too many places to hide.

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Sound ignores this pathway of thieves. It sticks to the main line.

The main line consists of three tiny bones which would turn a skilful Chinese ivory carver purple with jealousy, so wonderfully constructed are they to resemble a hammer, an anvil and a stirrup. Interestingly enough, a group of scientists have formed a club, the purpose of which is to will their ossicles to science that we may know more about these tiny bones and how to keep them merrily passing sound over their j little bridge instead of going on strike and I lessening our auditory acuity.

Over this delicate chain, sounds are carried to the entry of the next chamber, the oval window whence sound travels up the perceiving channels.

Behind and above the drum is another 1 by-pass, the attic, which is not a space for I the accumulation of the rubbish of years but j a doorway to the mastoid cells—those bony j spaces which participate in that famous triple play too common in colds—Throat to Middle Ear to Mastoid, as devastating a I play as the old-time baseball one, Evers to Tinker to Chance.

¡ Trailing our sound once more, we enter a ' mazelike snail-shell area called the cochlea j where, in the organ of Corti, are scattered j tiny fibres from the cranial nerve of hearing, j the excitation of which causes, in the brain centre, sensations we recognize as sound. These fibres in this particular organ have a j wider range of tone reception than does a fine pipe organ.

In this region, in addition to the cochlea, are three arched canals resembling automobile tires and, interestingly enough, having to do with, not hearing, but locomotion— with our balance, to be exact.

In summary, our organ of hearing consists of three parts: outer, middle, inner. Its

functions are two: sound conduction and sound interpretation.

Nobody Has Two Ears

NOW for something startling. We have not two ears at all. We have one hearing organ, half of which is located on either side of the head. Injure one half and you will, first of all, find it difficult to localize sound. We localize sound by a process similar to that used in the radio compass, namely, having two known points we find a third. Ears, it would seem, believe as little 1 in single blessedness as do the matrimonially i inclined.

Seriously, is it strange, when we consider the complicated and delicate machinery of hearing, that the ear should get out of order, go on strike, proclaim a lockout on sound? Certainly it seems like a particularly vulnerable organ. And it is exactly that. Were it not for a factor of safety, a loss allowance which I personally estimate at about twenty per cent, we would have lots more difficulty with the ear and its idiosyncrasies. ■

It seems today, as if there was a general conspiracy to punish the ear.

Consider noise, for example. The ear must suffer, not only from the efforts of hopeful young musicians but from noises of civilization, from the noises of the very machines which are claimed to make the modern age so vastly worth while. That famous Canadian industrial surgeon. Dr. Frank Pedley, has revealed that in industry exposure to noises long enough pounds us into impaired hearing. And this is omitting the terrific effects of noise on our nervous systems. Yes, we have erected our Frankenstein.

But if we muzzled noise, the ears would J still get into pecks of trouble. The common ; cold, for example, like the crafty Druse playing dead till he gets a chance to shoot the Legionnaire in the back, seems well cured yet lies dormant in our sinuses or elsewhere till it gets a shot at our hearing. And a cold, having decided to go "over the top,” invades the ear via the Eustachian tube, storms the mastoids, and then we are in trouble. We try to repel the invaders with the good old home remedies, including hot-water bags and ice bags over the aching ears -turning comparatively simple troubles into red hot ones. Doctors ought to have

padlocks for these hot and cold bags when their destination is the ears. •

If colds are bad actors, scarlet fever,

measles and certain other contagious diseases are generalissimos in the army

trouble. Doctors, in fact, have long since formed the habit of taking a peek in the ears to explain any mysterious rise in human temperature.

The whole story of saving ears is to invest a few dollars in medical advice early in order

to avoid having to float a bond issue to cover

later service of a far more costly and extensive nature. Granted some cases of hearing impairment are unavoidable under the best

of care, there are a great many people with poor hearing who might have avoided the disaster. And many a parent, protecting Johnny or Mary from parting with a wicked pair of tonsils—so proved after an impartial trial—has unwittingly invited ear trouble.

And so we can arrive at but one conclusion

about ear trouble—it is very frequently

unnecessary, even if our ears are mighty delicate affairs.

Home Treatment Is No Good

NOW for the “unless” promised in our introduction.

Ear troubles are best handled if detected early. It’s easy enough to recognize an earache, and the howls of the victim compel us to seek medical aid, if only to lessen the disturbance of our slumbers. But ear troubles don’t always parade in bright red uniforms with brass bands. No, indeed. That is why we advocate annual testing of the hearing. The machines—audiometers —now available test rapidly and well. Of course, if you try, as I have done many a time, to test an infant, both you and the tiny tot are going to get bored and possibly

profane—the infant because you make such a nuisance of yourself, and you because the infant finds a buzzing fly of vastly more importance than your scientific performanee. However, with the aid of a bell or two and a few other gimcracks you can at least determine whether hearing is present or absent. Try a toddler and he will be interested in everything you do except to furnish the response you wish. But as soon as a child gets into school, you can, with one instrument or another of the audiometer groups, get a nice little test. For adults, if the blessed and profitable habit of an annual

health examination has become the rule. the hearing test goes with the regular audit, Same for tiny tots. In schools, an annual test of hearing is as necessary as an annual eye test and even more productive of helpful results.

Supposing a person’s hearing test is unsatisfactory, what then? As in the case of all other ear troubles, seek the family doctor, ear specialist, or clinics of your preference and confidence. Home treatment of ears is as bad as going to the charlatans who

promise anything and give nothing except mysterious operations, glittering gadgets, or multitudinous medications, all of high price and low helpfulness.

No ethical doctor will claim to cure hearing impairment except in certain boys and girls. The cure lies in certain educational procedures. It is a social, not a medical cure,

We restore a hard-of-hearing person to a useful place in society and a happy place in society. That, we call the cure. That is probably all the cure there ever will be. Hence the charlatans who promise more catch those who demand more than science can give.

The educational cure lies in lip-reading instruction, teaching you how to learn the thought of another person through observing

his lips. Lip-reading is neither difficult nor; tedious to learn. Next come a few lessons in what sort of work is best when your hearing is limited. There are surprisingly few jobs which a lip-reading person cannot handle.

Most difficult of all is to teach people not to shout at a deafened friend, just speak

slowly and clearly. And it is well to remem-

ber that the hard of hearing enjoy participation in conversations as well as any one.

It is a positive fact that those hermits we sometimes find among the deafened group are the products of their own friends’ lack of consideration. If a deafened person cannot1

get on in society with residual hearing and lip-reading, then there are available increas-

ingly wonderful hearing aids, usually electric,;

which are remarkably helpful in maintaining your social position. They are the glasses of the deafened.

A recent study has shown that when hardof-hearing persons do become adjusted to their loss, they are often more stable indivi-1 duals than corresjxmding persons whose hearing is perfect,

Soldiers of the Ear Brigade

K ^ARRIAGE and its ramifications is / V1 always a great worry to persons with

hearing loss. The story in brief is this:

Children are not supposed to inherit

hearing impairment except in one rare ear

disease and when a practically complete loss exists at birth—congenital deafness. Some

believe that a deafened mother will pay a portion of her hearing for her child—after the child is bom. Whether a hard-of-hearing person should marry or not depends on whether the other partner will be willing to make four ears out of perhaps three and a j half, and also whether there is monev enough to assure the deafened partner somewhat ; more rest than he or she might need otherj wise. Good health and well-rested nerves ' g0 a long way toward improvement even in a poor pair of ears, for as goes the health, so goes the hearing.

If you held an assembly of all the hard-of! hearing persons in the country, they mi*ht j disagree on many things, but on one matter they would all be in accord —it’s not half as bad to have impaired hearing as you might believe. Think of all the useless chatter that you escape. As for the rest, just be sure that! your best friend hasn’t a hearing loss that you don’t know about. Many a man has had a jrerfect secretary for years and only learned : of her hearing loss because the secret hapjjened to leak out—for the perfect secretary is known to keep her own secrets as well as i yours.

Yes, there are a lot of poor ears wandering ! around—some say as many as fifty per cent of all adults. These same people are not wasting their lives mourning about their loss. But they have banded themselves together to fight such loss in others. In fact.

they boast that they are the only group of physical defectives who ever study their ' own troubles, proceed to remedy them as best they can, and then fight mightily to make sure others do not unnecessarily join their ranks.

And so it is not at all improbable that I sooner or later, like many a depressed ; nation today, ears will go back on the gold j standard. Meanwhile, prospects are looking J

up. Some state emphatically that prosperity for ears, like prosperity for everything ! else, has turned the corner, thanks to some intelligent advice and action.

Incidentally, every time you discover a school child with impaired hearing and so rehabilitate him as to prevent his repeating j a grade, the taxpayer is saved the cost of at least one year’s schooling for that child. As for the money saved when you make an asset and not a liability out of a pair of

misbehaving ears, you would not believe me if I dared estimate how much I believe it to be. Human happiness is, of course, priceless.