You have relied on your ears all your life without really thinking about them. But lately, you might be finding it more difficult to understand what people are saying, especially women and children. You also have a hard time following group conversations and there is an annoying ring in your ears. What is going on?
More than 36 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss, and an estimated 3 out of every 1,000 children in the United States may be born with hearing loss. Whether it is present at birth or it happens suddenly or over time, hearing loss can leave you feeling isolated and separated from friends and family.
Causes of hearing loss
Although some inner-ear damage occurs naturally with aging, some is caused by loud noises we are exposed to on the job or as a result of daily life. If you or your children listen to music with earphones, keep the volume moderate. Wear earplugs or earmuffs if you work with or around loud machinery or if you participate in noisy recreational activities. Some hearing loss can be helped with traditional hearing aids, while other types of hearing loss may require more advanced treatments. Some types of hearing loss include:
Conductive hearing loss: A problem in the outer or middle ear can prevent sound from moving to the inner ear, potentially resulting in conductive hearing loss. Earwax buildup, fluid or a punctured eardrum can cause it. This type of mild or moderate hearing loss can be temporary or permanent. Conductive hearing loss may be helped by medication or surgery. When medical or surgical treatments do not resolve conductive hearing loss, a hearing aid can usually help.
Sensorineural hearing loss: This condition results from damage to the cochlea, the snail-shaped cavity in the inner ear. There, thousands of tiny hairs convert sound vibrations into electrical signals, which are sent to the brain for interpretation. When those hairs or the nerves attached to them are damaged, messages to the brain are not sent properly. Sensorineural hearing loss can be present at birth or can occur as a result of illness, injury or aging. Sensorineural hearing loss can be mild, moderate or severe and is usually permanent. Surgical procedures cannot cure sensorineural hearing loss. Medication may be helpful in some cases. Mild to moderately severe sensorineural hearing loss can usually be helped with hearing aids, while severe or profound hearing loss may be improved with cochlear implants.
Neural hearing loss: The absence of or damage to the auditory nerve can cause neural hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is usually profound and permanent. Hearing aids and cochlear implants cannot help neural hearing loss because the auditory nerve is not able to pass sound information to the brain.
Learn more about implantable cochlear systems
Children as young as 1 year and adults can benefit from cochlear implants. The device compensates for damaged nerve cells, helping to restore the ability to perceive and understand sounds.
A cochlear implant bypasses the damaged part of the ear and sends sound signals directly to the auditory nerve. Cochlear implants convert everyday sounds into coded electrical pulses, which stimulate the auditory nerve, and the brain interprets these pulses as sound. The brain receives this sound information within microseconds, so sounds are heard as they occur.
The physicians with Southeast Texas Ear, Nose & Throat are accepting new patients. For more information or to make an appointment, call (409) 212-8111. Offices are conveniently located at 740 Hospital Drive, Suite 300 in Beaumont.
- Ray Fontenot, MD
- Carl Jordan, MD
- William O’Mara, MD
- Harold Parks, MD
- Jeremy Roebuck, MD (cochlear implant provider)
3 ways to make hearing easier
- Reduce background noise. Turn off the stereo. Run the dishwasher only when you are asleep. Shut the window if street noise makes it difficult to hear.
- Watch the person to whom you are speaking. Facial expressions and gestures will help you understand what he or she is saying.
- Speak up. If you cannot make out what someone is saying, ask him or her to face you directly, talk more slowly, come closer or speak louder.