Maybe it’s hearing the birds chirp each morning that gives you joy or leaning in as your granddaughter tells you about her first day at school. Perhaps it’s listening to your newborn baby coo or rocking out with your favorite band. All of these sounds, however fleeting they may be, create meaningful memories in our lives. Your hearing loss should not be the reason why you miss out on these special moments.
In general, hearing loss occurs over time so it may not be obvious to the person with the loss. A decrease in hearing tends to result in increased listening effort, reduced speech clarity, difficulty hearing in noise, and slower auditory processing. Hearing loss has the potential to interfere with social engagement, productivity at work, and emotional wellness.
What are the Types of Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss arising from structural changes to the outer or middle ear is considered a conductive hearing loss (CHL). This means that sound cannot easily be conduct to the inner ear due to some type of blockage. A CHL may arise from wax buildup, ear infections, or fixation of the ossicles (these are the tiny little bones in the middle ear). Depending on the cause, medical intervention may be a viable option for correcting a CHL and therefore consultation with an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) doctor is typically advised. A sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) is one that arises from changes to hair cells in the inner ear and/or a loss of nerve sensitivity. Hair cells are sensitive structures that transmit sound up to the brain. Hair cell damage is irreversible and is the most common cause of SNHL. Sensorineural hearing loss is precipitated by age, genetics, noise exposure, ototoxic medications, and/or viruses. Lastly, a mixed hearing loss is one that arises from damage to both the outer, middle, and inner ear.
How is Hearing Loss Diagnosed?
Before assessing your hearing, our Doctors of Audiology will collect detailed information regarding your listening lifestyle. Do you have trouble hearing at work? At social gatherings? Or perhaps you cannot easily hear your grandchildren. Do you avoid the phone because it’s too hard to hear? The answers to these questions and more are critical to help us better understand your daily listening experience. Our comprehensive hearing evaluations include pure tone audiometry, word recognition, speech reception thresholds, tympanometry, and otoacoustic emission testing. The results from these tests will determine the type and degree of hearing loss. We will also conduct a speech-in-noise test which provides a more realistic understanding of your listening skills in the real world.
How is Hearing Loss Treated?
Treatment will vary depending on the etiology of the hearing loss. Surgical intervention may be a viable option for correcting a conductive hearing loss but not in all cases. In contrast, sensorineural hearing loss cannot be corrected with surgery or medical management. The most effective option for addressing this type of hearing loss is through the use of hearing aid technology, communication strategies, and assistive listening devices. If your hearing loss is severe or profound cochlear implantation may be recommended.