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Hearing Loss

Nearly 50 million Americans report some degree of hearing loss. Hearing aids can dramatically improve hearing, especially with the newer designs available today. Cochlear implants, on the other hand, essentially reverse hearing loss by taking over the function of the damaged part of the inner ear to send sound signals to the brain via the hearing nerve. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to improving hearing, there are certain factors to consider when choosing a solution likely to be effective.

Hearing Aids

Long considered the go-to remedy for hearing loss, hearing aids are recommended when hearing loss causes social impairment or difficult in speech development. Signs of hearing loss may include:

  • Difficulty following full conversations
  • Trouble with distant sounds, such as a doorbell
  • An inability to hear higher pitches, including some voices

Cochlear Implants

All patients, younger and older patients with severe hearing loss or those who are unable to receive benefit from hearing aids can benefit from a cochlear implant. An ear, nose and throat doctor (ENT) who specializes in the ear (otologist / neurotologist) will evaluate a patient to determine if they have a type of hearing loss that can could be improved with an implant. Ideal candidates for a cochlear implants have severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss that can't be compensated for with a hearing aid.

Types of Hearing Loss

Treatment for hearing loss depends on the type of hearing loss involved. In some cases, an ENT may treat hearing issues with medication if a temporary infection is the source of impairment. There are three types of hearing loss a patient may experience:

  • Conductive hearing loss: Hearing impairment stemming from problems with the ear drum, ear canal, or the malleus, incus, stapes, and other small bones of the middle ear is considered conductive. This type of hearing loss sometimes improves on its own or is treated with surgery or hearing aids.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: Damage to the inner ear sensory cells or those to the nerve are termed sensorineural hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is the type that is treated with a hearing aid or when severe, cochlear implant.
  • Mixed hearing loss: This type of hearing loss is a combination of sensorineural hearing loss: and conductive hearing loss, meaning damage may be nerve-related and due to structural issues within the ear.

Hearing aids available today are smaller than what was available even a decade ago, so there's not as much objection to having to wear one. Additionally, the level of precision and control over the device itself is much greater. The main reason to opt for a cochlear implant is to when hearing loss becomes severe and word understanding is less than 50% with hearing aids. An ENT who specializes in the ear (otologist / neurotologist) will give a patient the information they need to make a comfortable decision, including the results of comprehensive hearing tests and a discussion of available options.