Hearing loss, commonly known as hearing impairment, refers to partial or complete inability to percept the surrounding sounds with one or both ears. A deaf person usually either cannot hear at all, or has a very limited hearing ability.
HOW DOES HEARING LOSS HAPPEN?
It occurs as you age and is referred to as presbycusis. Being constantly exposed to loud noises also plays a key role in the development of hearing loss. A temporary hearing loss usually can be caused when there is an accumulation of excessive earwax, which forms ‘plugs’ and prevents your ears from transferring sounds effectively.
HOW MANY TYPES OF HEARING LOSS ARE THERE?
Hearing loss is divided into three categories according to the part of the auditory system that is damaged: conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss and mixed hearing loss.
- Conductive hearing loss: This is where sounds caught by the outer ear canal are not transferred efficiently to the eardrum and tiny bones of the middle ear. A person affected by this condition will experience a reduction in sound levels, especially faint sounds. Thankfully, this condition can be corrected with medical or surgical intervention.
- Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL): It is the most common type of permanent hearing loss. This condition is usually not treatable by medication or surgery. It develops when your inner ear or nerve pathways that are connected to your brain become damaged.
- Mixed Hearing Loss : Sometimes, conductive hearing loss is paired with sensorineural hearing loss. This means that damage is present in both your outer/middle and inner ears or auditory nerve.
CAN HEARING LOSS BE REVERSED?
Most types of hearing loss are irreversible. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to live the rest of your life without enjoying sound. You and your doctor or hearing specialist can work together to take steps to improve your ability to hear.
SYMPTOMS OF HEARING LOSS
- Difficulty to understand phone conversations
- Difficulty to hear above background noise
- Difficulty in following a conversation when there are more than 2 people speaking simultaneously
- Often perceive others to be mumbling or not pronouncing words properly
- Frequent misunderstanding of what others say and respond inappropriately
- Frequently asking others to repeat what they say
- Loud TV volumes are deemed normal
- Tinnitus; the ringing, roaring or hissing sounds in your ears
TREATMENT OPTIONS AVAILABLE FOR HEARING LOSS
The treatment of hearing loss depends on the cause and severity of your inability to hear, and your options include:
- Removal of wax blockage: The excessive accumulation of earwax that blocks the ear passages is a condition that can be reversed. Your doctor may loosen the wax with oil and then flush, scoop or suction the softened wax out.
- Surgical intervention: Surgery may be needed in instances of traumatic ear injury or recurrent infections that will require small tubes to be inserted to help drain the ears. Removal of wax blockage and surgical procedures are both performed by an ENT doctor.
- Hearing aids:In case your hearing power decreases as a result from inner ear damage, a hearing aid can be used to improve the strength and clarity of the sounds you hear. An audiologist will be able to help you understand the upside of using a hearing aid, recommend the right device for you, and fit you with it.
HOW WILL I KNOW WHICH TYPE OF HEARING AID IS RIGHT FOR ME?
Here’s what you will need to consider:
- Receiver-in-canal (or RIC) aids: Placed behind the ear. They are typically small in size because their receivers rest within the ear canal. These ‘mini’ receivers are available in different sizes, depending on the level of amplification you require. They can be adjusted very quickly and easily, are comfortable and discrete, and are designed to provide just the right amount of amplification.
- Behind-The-Ear (or BTE) hearing aids: Used to treat a wide range of hearing loss from mild to significant hearing loss. They come in a wide variety of styles, and range from miniature-BTEs to larger, ‘superpower’ instruments. Many BTE hearing aids offer multi-directional microphone systems to improve the wearer’s understanding of speech in noisy environments.
- In-The-Ear (ITE) hearing aids: Custom-made to suit the wearer’s ear. They range from ‘micro’ CIC instruments, which fit fully in the ear canal to full-shell hearing devices that fill up the bowl of the ear.
ARE THERE ANY SPECIAL HEARING AIDS AVAILABLE FOR CHILDREN?
Yes, today’s children are fortunate enough to have access to state-of-the-art hearing technology that did not exist 20 years ago. This technology also comes in a myriad of colors, features and styles to suit different personalities. They are specially designed to enhance his or her daily activities, not hinder them.
Regardless of their appearance, all hearing aids are made to selectively increase the volume of the sounds your child wants to hear. This means that they can make soft sounds audible, while moderate or loud sounds are adjusted to comfortable level.
A hearing instrument cannot solve every hearing problem or recover your child`s hearing, but they are meant to adjust the intensity of the surrounding sounds and noises, which allows your child to hear and understand better.
WHY WOULD MY HEARING SPECIALIST OFFER ME TWO PIECES OF HEARING AIDS?
If you’ve lost your ability to hear in both ears (also known as bilateral hearing loss), your doctor most likely will suggest you to have two (or binaural) hearing aids.
However, even if you’re a candidate for two hearing aids, ultimately, the decision to wear bilateral hearing aids (or not) is yours. This is why it’s important that you experience binaural hearing aid amplification before making a decision.But with that said, just as you use both eyes for clear and complete vision, two healthy ears will help you hear with clarity and strength.
WILL I NEED COCHLEAR IMPLANTS?
A cochlear implant may be an option for you if you have severe hearing loss. Instead of amplifying sound and directing it into your ear canal, a cochlear implant helps compensate for damaged or non-working parts of your inner ear. If you consider getting a cochlear implant, be sure to discuss its benefits and risks with your audiologist and ENT specialist.
DIAGNOSTIC SERVICES AVAILABLE TO DETECT HEARING LOSS
- Physical exams:A doctor will examine your ear to investigate the possible causes of your hearing loss, such as the accumulation of earwax or inflammation from an infection. Your doctor will also look for any structural damage or defects that might be the cause behind your hearing problems.
- General screening tests: A doctor will test your hearing in one ear at a time to determine how well you hear words spoken at various volumes, and how you respond to other types of sounds.
- Audiometer tests:During these comprehensive tests conducted by an audiologist, you will be given earphones to wear and listen to sounds that are directed to one ear at a time. Your audiologist then plays a variety of sounds at different tones, and gets you to respond whenever you hear them. These tones are repeated at low levels to find out when you can barely hear. Your audiologist will also play different words for you to gauge your ability to hear.