Hearing loss is a troubling medical condition that can affect one or both ears. Several types can occur, some of which are permanent.
Conductive hearing loss, which is caused by conditions that affect the outer and/or middle ear is usually treatable and therefore temporary. Sensorineural hearing loss, on the other hand, is due to disorders of the inner ear and/or central auditory system.
This type of condition is usually permanent, but there are ways to mitigate the loss of hearing that results. Mixed hearing loss, which is caused by a combination of conductive and sensorineural conditions, is also possible.
Gradual hearing loss is usually painless and occurs slowly over months or years. Sudden hearing loss, however, can often be painful. It’s classified as a medical emergency and should be treated in a hospital setting.
The common signs of hearing loss include:
- The inability to hear.
- Having to ask people to repeat themselves, particularly in crowds or noisy environments.
- Having to turn up the volume when you listen to music or watch TV.
- Feeling tired or stressed because of how hard you have to concentrate when listening to people.
What are the causes of hearing loss?
Temporary hearing loss may be caused by something as simple as having ear wax build up in your ear. Ear infections and burst eardrums can cause sudden, but often a temporary hearing loss in one or both ears.
Exposure to loud noise, such as at a concert, can cause temporary hearing loss as well. However, repeated exposure may lead to permanent effects.
Certain medications can adversely affect your hearing. So can the build-up of fluid or skin cells in the ear, or bony growths and other malformations. Usually, these types of conditions can be treated and hearing can be restored.
An extremely loud noise, such as one caused by an explosion, can be extremely painful and cause immediate hearing loss. People who experience this should receive emergency medical care. Sometimes their hearing loss in these situations will be permanent.
A traumatic brain injury can also cause sudden hearing loss, particularly if it results in damage to the delicate mechanisms of the ear.
Sometimes such hearing loss may be temporary, though often it is permanent. Another serious condition that can result in permanent hearing loss is Ménière’s disease.
Finally, hearing loss is often a natural result of the aging process. There may be genetic factors at play as well as environmental ones.
What are the ways to treat hearing loss?
In a lot of cases, you won’t need to do anything. For example, if you went to a loud concert, your hearing will most likely come back in a few hours or days if you simply avoid loud environments.
In other cases, the remedy is simple. If you’ve got earwax build-up, removing the wax will restore your hearing. Treatment generally involves ear drops followed by either irrigation (flushing the ear with water) or micro-suction. Sometimes hearing loss can be treated with steroids or medications.
If there are abnormalities of the ear drum or the ossicles (hearing bones) surgery may be required. If repeated infections are causing fluid to build up in the ear which impacts your hearing, then surgically inserting small drainage tubes could help.
In cases of permanent hearing loss, possible solutions include hearing aids, implants, or finding different ways to communicate, such as with sign language.
Hearing aids use electronics to amplify sound. They are suitable for people who still have some ability to hear. They are generally convenient, inexpensive and non-intrusive. The most common varieties are placed behind the ear.
If your hearing loss is more severe, you may need an implant. These are surgically attached to or inside your skull. The common types include bone anchored, cochlear, auditory brainstem, and middle ear implants.
The bone anchored variety is the least intrusive. The surgery required is minor, and it can be easily removed and reattached. It helps the inner ear detect noise by causing nearby bones to vibrate.
Cochlear implants use a microphone behind the ear. Sound is converted to electrical signals that are sent by wires to the cochlea, a part of the inner ear. In order for this device to work, the auditory nerve must still be in sound condition.
Auditory brainstem implants are similar to cochlear implants, but they circumvent the auditory nerve. For this reason, they may be a good option if your auditory nerve is damaged. It’s not as effective as other options, however.
Finally, there are middle ear implants for those who can’t use regular hearing aids due to allergies or other issues. These consist of two devices. One is attached to the skin. It turns sounds into electrical signals. The other is placed under the skin, where it picks up the signals and causes the small bones of the ear to vibrate in response.
Finally, there may be situations where a person needs to be re-trained to function without hearing. They may need to learn sign language, for example.
Hearing loss is a serious condition that may be permanent or temporary. It can be caused by a medical condition, exposure to sudden loud noise or a cranial impact, or be simply the result of aging. There are several ways to deal with the condition.
In some cases, procedures such as removing ear wax or inserting drainage tubes might fully restore hearing. In other cases, electronic devices may help.
These devices include both hearing aids as well as implants. In some cases, while the hearing will not be fully restored, it will be improved enough to allow the patient to live a normal life. Finally, in extreme cases, it may be necessary for the patient to learn how to cope without hearing.
In cases of hearing loss, it’s important to consult with a medical doctor as well as an audiologist to discuss the best options.