Everything from making friends, keeping in touch with family, being happy, getting an education and getting a job can be affected by a hearing loss. Not treating the loss only makes the impact worse.
The Impact of Hearing Loss
- Impact on personal life: Hearing problems can have a major impact on how well a baby learns to speak and interact with others. When even a mild-to-moderate hearing problem is diagnosed after age 1, children have a greater risk of developing speech impediments and other problems with language and learning. They also may lag in emotional and social development and be unable to make friends.
- Financial costs: According to the Better Hearing Institute, the annual cost in the United States in terms of lost productivity, special education, and medical care because of untreated hearing loss is $56 billion. A study done in Australia showed people with profound hearing loss attained on average only a third-grade level of education. Their personal loss in earning potential and quality of life is enormous.
- The answer: If you suffer from hearing loss, get help. Stop being embarrassed or ashamed. Stop worrying that it is a sign of old age. See your doctor and a hearing specialist if needed. Hearing aids can help 95 percent of people with hearing loss.
Medical Treatment for Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is not an illness but a symptom of an underlying disorder. In most patients with conductive hearing loss, the disorder can be treated surgically or medically (with drugs) to correct the problem. When there is a problem in the external or middle ear, a conductive hearing impairment occurs. In most patients with sensorineural hearing loss, however, the damage is permanent and cannot be corrected with surgery or drugs. The ability to treat certain types of hearing loss makes proper diagnosis important.
Treating conductive hearing disorders
The type of treatment depends on the underlying cause. In most cases, normal hearing is restored.
- Wax buildup: Removed with a probe or suction device
- Infection: Treated with oral antibiotics or ear drops containing antibiotics and, perhaps, hydrocortisone to help relieve itching
- Fluid in the middle ear: Caused by infections, the fluid is drained by a procedure, called myringotomy, in which a small incision is made in the eardrum
- Blocked eustachian tubes: (The connections between the pharynx and the middle ears): caused by repeated attacks of otitis media, other infections and allergies, typically in young children; the blockage causes fluid to accumulate in the middle ear and can be corrected by inserting tubes through the eardrum
- Infected mastoid bone: A bone behind the ear, removed surgically (mastoidectomy)
- Ruptured eardrum: Treated with an antibiotic to prevent infection and sometimes protected with a plastic patch; if it doesn’t heal on its own, surgery may be necessary
- Otosclerosis: Can be treated by an operation (stapedectomy) which replaces the damaged bones of the middle ear with tiny metal substitutes
Treating sensorineural hearing problems
Because sensorineural hearing loss involves permanent damage to the cochlea, the hair cells or the nerve, there is no effective treatment. Although the hearing loss is permanent, it is manageable in about 95 percent of cases with hearing aids.
- In-the-canal hearing aids (ITC). These fit completely in the ear canal and are quite small.
- In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids fit completely in the outer ear. These are the most popular. Both the ITCs and ITEs benefit people with mild-to-severe hearing loss.
- Behind-the-ear (BTE) units are worn behind the ear, and are connected to a plastic ear mold worn in the outer ear. They offer more power and special programming options and also can be used with telephones and other listening aid devices.
An operation known as a cochlear implant can help restore partial hearing to some people with profound sensorineural deafness who do not benefit from even the highest-powered hearing aids. The electronic device is designed to bypass damaged parts of the cochlea and to stimulate the auditory nerve. It consists of a small battery-operated speech processor and microphone worn outside the ear that converts sounds into electrical signals. The signals are transmitted to electrodes that were surgically implanted in the cochlea. The electrodes stimulate the nerve in the ear so that the sound can get to the brain.
The implants don’t restore normal hearing. However, most people who have had the surgery can hear sounds. They also report that the implants help them read lips better. One study found that children who received implants, followed by a year of hearing training and speech therapy, were more likely to be fully mainstreamed in school and require fewer support services at school than similarly deaf children without implants.
A Few Tips
1. Questions to Ask the Doctor
Ask your doctor:
- What kind of hearing loss you have.
- If the hearing loss is permanent or will worsen.
- If you will need a hearing aid and, if so, what kind is recommended?
- To tell you about any surgical options.
- Whether you should seek help and advice from an audiologist (hearing therapist) or an ENT (ear/nose/throat) specialist.
- If there’s anything you can do to protect your hearing and prevent further loss.
- About coping with hearing loss at home and at work.
- About clinical trials in which you can participate.
2. Preventing Hearing Loss
Here are steps you can take to help prevent hearing loss or lessen its severity:
- Protect your ears from loud noises. Either avoid loud noises or wear ear protection such as earplugs or earmuffs. Even covering your ears with your hands helps protect them.
- Keep the volume low when using earphones or car stereos (noise is accentuated in enclosed spaces such as a car).
- Educate your children about the danger of loud music and other noises.
- Get the proper immunizations for measles and other diseases and the proper medical treatments for infections for you and your children.
- Follow your doctor’s advice for medical conditions that can cause hearing loss, such as high blood pressure and Meniere’s disease.
- Avoid prolonged use of medications that can cause hearing loss.
- Don’t blow your nose too hard. It’s better to gently blow one nostril at a time.
- Don’t put cotton-tipped swaps, fingers or anything else into the outer ear canal.
- Get regular screening, particularly if you are in a high-risk job or participate in a high-risk hobby.
- See your doctor immediately if you have any sudden loss of hearing in one or both ears. This can mean a reaction to medication, a clot or tumor near the auditory nerve or a neurological problem.
3. General Medication Safety Tips
When you are prescribed new medicines, make sure you ask for written information and understand the following things:
- What is the medicine for?
- How should I take it and for how long?
- What should I do if I forget a dose?
- What side effects can this medicine cause?
- Is this medicine safe to take with the other medicines and supplements that I am already taking?
- What other safety measures should I follow while using this medicine?
- What storage conditions are required for this medicine?
4. Self Care
In addition to accepting hearing aids and using other listening devices, there are other coping skills you can use to help yourself to hear better. You can:
- Let people know you have trouble hearing and ask them to speak clearly, distinctly and in a normal tone.
- Ask someone to repeat part of a conversation if you miss it.
- Position yourself so that you can see the person speaking, then watch their mouths, facial expressions and gestures.
- Try to limit background noise when having a conversation.
- Sit up front in classrooms, churches, synagogues or anywhere there is a speaker.
- Seek help and advice from an audiologist (hearing therapist).
The American Academy of Otolaryngology recommends the following:
- Avoid loud noises.
- Make sure your blood pressure is normal.
- Reduce the amount of salt in your diet.
- Avoid coffee, tea and caffeine-containing colas.
- Avoid using tobacco.
- Exercise daily.
- Get adequate rest.
- Don’t concentrate on the noise.
- Try relaxation techniques.
- Mask noises that bother you with “white” noise, such as a fan or radio, or with specially designed devices that emit a pleasant sound.