ExecutiveChronicles | Understanding Hearing Loss Treatment with Hearing Aids | Hearing aids make sounds louder and are available for people of all ages, including infants. Talk to your audiologist at a hearing clinic about finding the right type for you. Practice wearing your hearing aid in quiet environments before using it in noisy places.
If you have a sudden hearing loss in one ear, see an otolaryngologist as soon as possible. Quick treatment reduces your chances of permanent damage.
Types of Hearing Loss
The type of hearing loss that you have will determine the treatment options available. Some types of hearing loss are permanent, but others may improve with treatment or medication. Your hearing health professional will help you find the best option for your specific condition.
Hearing aids are electronic, battery-run assistive devices that can make sounds louder. They can help people of all ages with mild to severe hearing loss. They are available with or without a prescription and can be bought over the counter.
Conductive hearing losses that are caused by the eardrum or the bones in the ear (such as ossicular chain discontinuity or stenosis of the ear canal) can sometimes be corrected with medical treatment, including medication and surgery. Some people with this type of hearing loss may also benefit from a bone-anchored implantable device consisting of a plastic earmold that fits in the ear and a hard case worn behind the ear to hold the electronic parts.
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the tiny hair-like cells in the inner ear (stereocilia) or auditory nerve are damaged, which interferes with the transmission of sound signals to the brain. This type of hearing loss is the most common and can be caused by disease, noise exposure, injury, aging, certain medications, some birth defects, and other factors.
It’s important to seek care for any type of hearing loss, even if it is only temporary. Untreated, many kinds of hearing problems can worsen, resulting in more damage and a decreased quality of life. The sooner you see a specialist, the better your chances of preserving your hearing. It’s also a good idea to regularly check your hearing and speak to your healthcare provider if you notice any changes.
Hearing loss is caused by damage to the hair cells in the inner ear (cochlea) or the hearing nerve. These cells convert sound waves into movement data that a person with functional hearing interprets as speech and other sounds. Injuries, infections, diseases, and the aging process can cause this type of hearing loss. Certain medications and birth defects can also affect hearing.
A doctor may recommend hearing assistive devices if you have permanent hearing loss. These devices amplify sounds to make them easier to hear. They are available for both the outer and inner ear, including cochlear implants for the inner ear. These devices can help you communicate with others and live a full life.
Some types of hearing loss are temporary, such as a ruptured eardrum or an ear infection. Other forms of hearing loss are permanent, such as the gradual loss that occurs as people age or a condition like Meniere’s disease that affects both the outer and inner ears.
The best way to prevent hearing loss is to avoid loud noises. You can also wear earplugs or earmuffs in noisy environments to protect your hearing. You can also lower the volume on power tools and electronic devices. When communicating with someone who has hearing loss, face them, speak clearly and slowly, and maintain eye contact. Be patient, as it can take time to adjust to hearing loss. People with hearing loss can become frustrated, depressed, or angry because they have trouble communicating. They also have a higher risk for falls because they miss warning sounds. These people may also be mistaken for being confused or unresponsive. This can lead to isolation and loneliness, especially in older adults.
Depending on the type of hearing loss you have, your symptoms may vary. For example, permanent sensorineural hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids or other devices that amplify sounds. However, these devices cannot restore your hearing completely.
If you suffer from conductive hearing loss, such as when your ears become blocked with wax or have an ear infection, you may experience pain and/or ringing in the ears (tinnitus). Some types of hearing loss are temporary and resolve once the cause is treated. For example, if you have sudden conductive hearing loss due to loud noise or trauma, the removal of earwax, an ear exam and treatment for ear infections, medication, or a surgery called a myringotomy will help.
Other types of hearing loss that are permanent include presbycusis (age-related hearing loss) and otosclerosis, a condition that affects the middle ear, making it harder for tiny bones in the ear to move and causing a conductive hearing loss. Other permanent types of hearing loss include nerve damage caused by illness or injury, some medications, and some kinds of tumors.
The most common sign of hearing loss is difficulty understanding other people’s voices, especially when they are talking softly or in a noisy environment. You might also notice that you must turn the television or radio higher than usual. You might also have trouble picking out certain letters of the alphabet or words that aren’t vowels, and you might find yourself avoiding social situations because it becomes difficult to follow conversations. If you are experiencing these problems, it’s important to see your doctor right away. They will examine your ears and give you a test called audiometry to check your ability to hear different types of sounds and the quality and quantity of your hearing.
Fortunately, most types of hearing loss can be treated. Often, conductive hearing loss can be corrected with medication or surgery to fix the eardrum or bones. Many people who suffer from sensorineural hearing loss (loss of inner ear nerves) can significantly minimize their symptoms with the use of hearing aids. Even permanent sensorineural hearing loss is treatable by replacing or upgrading a microphone, amplifier, and speaker in the hearing aid to improve sound clarity.
Depending on the type and cause of your hearing loss, your healthcare provider can advise you on the best course of treatment. A hearing test (audiometry) can determine the degree and type of hearing loss you have. It is important to get a test if you think you have a problem with your hearing because untreated hearing loss can impact your quality of life.
If you suspect that you have conductive or sensorineural hearing loss, see your GP as soon as possible. In some cases, a GP may be able to help with the problem or refer you to a specialist, such as an audiology clinic, for further tests. Sudden deafness, or sudden sensorineural hearing loss, is also considered a medical emergency and should be seen by a doctor immediately.
Preventing hearing loss depends on limiting your exposure to loud noises and wearing protective equipment in noisy environments, such as earplugs and earmuffs. Also, be sure to regularly remove earwax with an ear syringe. In addition, certain medications can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss. Some of these medications include aspirin and some antibiotics, as well as some cancer treatments. Generally, these medications can be changed or switched to ones that do not have this side effect.
For people who have sensorineural hearing loss, the most effective treatment is using hearing aids. These electronic or battery-operated devices amplify sound waves to make speech easier to hear. They can even bring back near-normal clarity in most cases for children with mild or moderate hearing loss.
There are also surgically implanted audio-processing devices called cochlear implants for people who have severe or profound hearing loss. They bypass the damaged hair cells in the inner ear and send signals directly to the brain. The audiologist will evaluate a child’s hearing and determine the best course of action.
In general, hearing loss can cause a range of problems for children, including poor school performance and socialization issues. The earlier a child with hearing loss receives help, the better. In fact, it is recommended that an audiologist screen all children with hearing loss and receive early intervention services as soon as possible, beginning at 6 months of age.
The first step in the diagnosis of hearing loss is a physical exam. The audiologist will check the ears for signs of infection or blockage. They will perform an otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test, which involves placing a small probe against the mastoid bone to measure how well vibrations pass through the ear canal and middle ear. They may also recommend a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Conductive hearing losses, which involve damage to the eardrum or bones in the middle ear, can often be treated with medication or minor surgery. However, in some cases, the hearing loss is permanent and may require the use of hearing aids or other implantable devices like a bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA). In addition to these, children can also benefit from audiologic rehabilitation and/or speech therapy.