Hearing loss treatment

Hearing loss treatment

Do people seem to speak less clearly than they did in the past? Does your TV always seem to be too quiet? If you answered yes, you may have hearing loss. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), hearing loss is a common condition in the United States.

Approved by our expert

Hearing Solutions

Dr. Robert M. Traynor

Ed.D., MBA, FNAP

Dr. Robert M. Traynor practiced audiology at Audiology Associates, Inc., in Greeley, Colorado, where he provided diagnostic & rehabilitative treatment for hearing loss and tinnitus to patients of all ages.

Read his bio
Risk of hearing loss increases with age.
By the age of 75, there is a 50 percent chance of some degree of hearing loss.

While the risk for hearing loss is higher as you age, hearing loss can occur at any age. Two to three of every 1000 children are born with some degree of hearing loss.  Hearing loss interferes with communication, causes social isolation and adversely affects quality of life.  Fortunately, there is treatment for hearing loss.

FAQs on hearing loss treatment

How do I know if I have hearing loss?

If you have no hearing loss, it may seem hard to believe that someone can become hard of hearing without noticing. However, most people are unaware of early hearing loss. For adults, age related hearing loss is a slow, gradual process and our brains compensate for decreased sound levels. You might find yourself turning up the volume on TV or not enjoying social activities without realizing the cause. Children born with hearing loss have never experienced normal hearing, so their loss and how they hear is their “normal hearing.” 

In both cases, it’s often friends and relatives of those with hearing loss who notice the problem first.

If you’ve experienced any of the following, you may need to look into hearing loss treatment:

  • You have trouble hearing phone calls or have increased the phone’s volume to maximum.
  • You frequently have difficulty following conversations when people talk at the same time.
  • Family members or neighbors complain about the volume of your music or television.
  • You feel physically or emotionally drained after conversations.
  • You experience headaches after conversations.
  • You have difficulty hearing conversations in noisy environments.
  • You frequently say “what?” during conversations and ask people to repeat themselves.
  • People seem to mumble more than they once did
  • You frequently misunderstand what people say.
  • You have difficulty hearing children or women, who tend to speak at a higher pitch than men.
  • You find yourself withdrawing from social occasions
  • You experience anger and frustration while trying to follow conversations.

Why treat hearing loss?

Untreated hearing loss can lead to a host of other undesirable symptoms. Kids with hearing loss can develop delays in language development, learning, and social engagement. Adults who find following conversations difficult may become withdrawn, avoid social activities they once enjoyed, and develop symptoms of depression. Hearing loss after retirement has been linked to cognitive decline and an increased risk of tripping and falling due to inner ear issues.

What’s the first step in hearing loss treatment?

Hearing loss treatment begins with a hearing test, or audiogram. An audiogram tests how well you hear sounds of varying frequencies or pitches. The test is measured in decibels and the test results are called your hearing threshold level.  Depending on your results, you’ll fall into one of the following categories:

  • -10-25 decibels: Normal hearing.
  • 26-40 decibels: Mild hearing loss.
  • 41-55 decibels: Moderate loss.
  • 56-70 decibels: Moderate/severe hearing loss.
  • 71-90 decibels: Severe hearing loss.
  • 91-100 decibels: Profound hearing loss.

During an audiogram you wear headphones and listen to sounds sent to one ear at a time. You signal when you hear a sound. For comparison, a whisper is approximately 20 decibels, while a loud music concert is between 80-120 decibels.

Speech audiometry is used to measure how well you can perceive and repeat spoken words. Another test, acoustic immittance uses a probe and gentle air pressure to measure eardrum movement and air pressure equalization in your middle ear and eustachian tube.  

What types of hearing loss treatments are there?

Hearing loss treatments include hearing aids, cochlear implants, surgery, and medication. The type of treatment that’s best for you will depend on the cause of your hearing loss. Hearing loss is divided into three broad categories: sensorineural, conductive, and mixed.

  1. Sensorineural hearing loss: This is permanent hearing loss due to damage to the inner ear, auditory nerve, or inner ear hair cells. Presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, falls into this category.

  2. Conductive hearing loss: This results from problems with the outer or middle ear, such as perforated eardrums, excessive earwax, or fluid in the middle ear. Conductive hearing loss can often be cured through medical or surgical interventions.

  3. Mixed hearing loss: This is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing problems.

Hearing aids and hearing loss treatment

Hearing aids are the most common type of treatment for hearing loss. A hearing aid is a small device worn in or behind the ear to make certain sounds louder, which helps you hear in both quiet and noisy environments.

Choosing the right hearing aid is important, as only one in five people who could benefit from hearing aids actually use them. This reluctance is partially explained by embarrassment over having to wear the aid, and partly by incorrectly fitted, uncomfortable devices. Choosing the right hearing aid model for your lifestyle and ear shape increases the likelihood you’ll use the device regularly.

Hearing aids use microphones to pick up sound, a digital processor to adjust the sound to compensate for your hearing loss, and amplifier to make the sound louder and a receiver or miniature sound speaker that delivers the sound to the ear. 

In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids

In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids use a custom-made shell to hold the hearing aid components and fit them into the ear.  These hearing aids were popular a decade ago, but due to their small size, limited options, and susceptibility to moisture and ear wax they are not used often today.

Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids

Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids have all the electronic components housed in a slim plastic case that sits behind the ear.  The hearing aid is connected to the ear with a slim plastic tube that ends in either a custom ear mold or soft silicone dome that anchors the aid in the ear canal and directs sound into the ear.

Receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aids

Receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aids are the most popular and flexible hearing aids available today. They make up over 90 percent of all hearing aids dispensed in the U.S. These hearing aids also have the bulk of the electronic components in a small case that sits behind the ear.  This case is connected with a wire to a small receiver/speaker that sits in the ear canal and directs sound into the ear.  Because of their small size, these hearing aids do not entirely block the ear canal and provide a more open fitting and natural sound quality.

Cochlear implants

Cochlear implants are typically used for people who are either deaf or extremely hard of hearing. Unlike hearing aids, which amplify sounds, a cochlear implant translates sounds into electrical impulses that bypass any damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. The implant does not provide “ordinary” hearing but does help the person wearing the device understand speech and identify warning signals in the environment.

A typical cochlear implant comes in two parts: an external portion that picks up sound and transmits it to the second part of the device, which is surgically implanted under the skin just above the ear. The internal part converts transmitted sounds into electric impulses.

Bone-Anchored Hearing Aids (BAHA)

Bone-anchored hearing aids are a type of hearing loss treatment usually reserved for people with mixed hearing loss and middle ear problems in one ear, and normal hearing in the other ear. People with outer or middle ear deformities can also benefit from this type of hearing loss treatment. An external microphone on a titanium bone implant detects sound, converting it into vibrations. The implant vibrates, creating inner ear soundwaves that trigger the auditory nerve.

What are assistive listening devices?

Severe hearing loss may may require assistive listening devices in addition to hearing aids. Assisted listening devices amplify sound and deliver it directly to the ear. Such devices may use FM radio waves, infrared, or inductive loop technology to help people hear televisions, listen to music, talk on the phone, and filter out background noise during conversations.

What to do about hearing loss

If you think you’re experiencing hearing loss, contact a licensed hearing care professional and schedule an examination. While most forms of hearing loss cannot be reversed, proper treatment can significantly improve your hearing and quality of life.

Conductive hearing loss treatment

Conductive hearing loss results from illness, deformities, or trauma to the outer or inner ear, including congenital defects, earwax buildup, perforated eardrums, tumors, and ear infections. Unlike sensorineural hearing loss, conductive hearing loss can often be reversed with treatment.

Conductive hearing loss treatment depends on the root cause of hearing loss. Antibiotic and antifungal medication is used to treat ear infections, while surgery may be necessary to open the ear canal, correct congenital deformities, remove tumors, or repair damage caused by trauma. Sometimes treating conductive hearing loss is as simple as draining the ear canal of excessive fluid and the removal of wax.

Sudden hearing loss treatment

While age-related hearing loss develops so gradually many people aren’t aware it’s happening, one type of sensorineural hearing loss occurs within days or hours, usually in only one ear. Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNL) is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate medical intervention.

Some cases of SSNL are thought to result from viral infections, but the root cause of many cases is never discovered. Prompt use of corticosteroids to reduce inner ear swelling and inflammation is required to prevent SSNL from causing permanent hearing loss. 

With you on your journey to better hearing.

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Veterans and active military personnel often develop sensorineural hearing loss as a direct result of their service. If you have hearing loss and served in the military, Veterans Affairs covers hearing loss treatment for those who qualify.

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