Sometimes it feels like you’ve just gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. Your mood is off, and you are feeling grumpy, down, dissatisfied or even a little angry. Although it may seem like your mood materialized out of thin air, the cause may be closer than you think -the simple chemical signals occurring in your brain. In particular, the neurotransmitter dopamine is responsible in large part for regulating moods and emotions.
Enhancing and stabilizing our moods isn’t dopamine’s only job however, it is also responsible for the healthy functioning of our auditory nerve. Scientists studying dopamine disruption in the brain found that auditory systems operating with insufficient dopamine reacted slower and less precisely than those with healthy dopamine levels.
What Dopamine Does
Dopamine is a little compound that is responsible for a lot of heavy lifting in the human body. It is in charge of shaping our moods and also handles the mind’s sense of accomplishment, reward and motivation. It uses these tools to control behavior. Additionally, dopamine plays key roles in sleep and cognition.
The body manufactures dopamine in the brain, along several chemical pathways. It is released into the body as a hormone and specifically performs roles in the healthy functioning of nerves and their responses. Dopamine production drops naturally as we age, but significantly low levels are a health concern. Issues with dopamine levels can throw nerve health out of balance and is thought to be a primary cause of Parkinson’s disease.
In the auditory system, dopamine is a factor in the functioning of the auditory nerve. Without proper dopamine levels, the auditory nerve is unable to do its job correctly – delivering signals from the inner ear to the auditory cortex of the brain which generates meaning and direction of sound.
How the Auditory Nerve Works
Our ear detects sound signals via the small hair cells in the inner ear. These cells are especially attuned to specific frequencies of sound and vibrate in response to sound waves. The signal from hair cells is initially just that – signals without meaning. Our auditory system requires interpretive work from the brain to truly “hear”.
Signals from the inner ear are run to the auditory cortex of the brain via the auditory nerve. As we learn to hear and interpret sounds and speech as babies, various pathways are forged along the auditory nerve that help us identify sound quickly and accurately.
Dopamine has been shown to play a role in how well the auditory nerve can perform. In a test to see how the auditory nerve functioned when faced with a deficiency of dopamine, researchers found that hearing was ultimately impacted. Low dopamine meant that the auditory nerve was limited in its signal delivery and hearing loss was present as a result.
Hearing Loss and Aging
As we get older, our hearing becomes more vulnerable to the experience of hearing loss. With dopamine levels declining as we age, our auditory nerve is less protected from harm. Significantly low dopamine could play a big role in the experience of hearing loss.
Aging makes other parts of the auditory system delicate as well. The small, vibration-sensing bones of the middle ear as well as the delicate hair cells in the inner ear both become more damage-prone with age. Over the age of 65, one in three people have some form of hearing loss, a percentage that rises to over 90% of people over the age of 90 experiencing hearing issues.
Unfortunately, most damage to the hearing system cannot be repaired, meaning that harm to our hearing accrues over time, eventually amounting to significant hearing loss. Tiny hair cells in the inner ear cannot repair or replace themselves, meaning that when they sustain damage –usually from exposure to loud noise, infection or bad circulation- that damage usually kills the cell. Out-of-commission hair cells create gaps in our hearing and puts additional stress on the auditory nerve. The cognitive act of drawing meaning from sound signals becomes slower and more complicated the less sound information is gathered and delivered.
If you have noticed changes to the way you hear, it’s time to get a hearing exam at a place you can trust: Hearing Health. Hearing Health has been providing outstanding customer care and a wide range of hearing solutions that can help restore healthy hearing and auditory wellness to your life.