Unless you’re born profoundly deaf, hearing is an essential part of living. It allows you to communicate effectively with others, learn about your environment, and sense when danger’s approaching. Unfortunately, as we get older, our ability to hear well deteriorates along with other parts of our bodies. That doesn’t mean, though, you have to sit and take it. From in-ear hearing aids to cochlear implants, your doctor has treatments available to help you weather the storm.
At Oasis Ear, Nose, and Throat in Surprise, Arizona, otolaryngologists Dr. James Osborne and Dr. Bryan Smedley provide quality hearing care and audiology services that address your waning hearing. Since many patients experience gradual hearing loss, it may not be obvious to them when they should seek out medical treatment, so the Oasis ENT team has put together this informational guide to help.
The hearing process
Your ear consists of three major areas:
- Outer ear
- Middle ear
- Inner ear
Sound waves pass through the outer ear, causing the eardrum to vibrate. The eardrum and three small bones in the middle ear amplify these vibrations as they head to the inner ear. There, they pass through fluid in a snail-shaped structure called the cochlea.
Nerve cells within the cochlea are dotted with thousands of tiny hairs; these help translate the vibrations into electrical signals that are then transmitted to your brain. Your brain converts the signals into sound.
Causes of hearing loss
Hearing loss can be caused by many things, the leading offender being simple aging. Another big culprit is noise, such as listening to music played too loud. Unfortunately no medical or surgical treatment can correct a hearing loss resulting from noise exposure, so protecting your ears from loud noises is critical.
Other causes include heredity, excessive earwax, some medications, infections such as otitis media (excess fluid in the middle ear), and medical conditions such as diabetes, Ménière’s disease (excess fluid in inner ear), and otosclerosis (bony growths in the middle ear, preventing vibration).
Hearing loss wait-and-see
Many people notice they don’t hear well in certain situations, but most wait an average of seven years before seeking help. Part of it may be denial — like an ostrich with its head in the sand, they’re afraid if they take a hearing test, they might find out they actually have a loss. Or, if it doesn’t impact their daily lives to a great extent, they may see no reason to do anything about the problem.
However, waiting isn’t a great option. Just like with most medical conditions, the sooner your hearing loss is diagnosed, the better your chances the doctor can do something to help.
In addition, losing your hearing significantly impacts your quality of life. Because hearing loss makes some conversations difficult, it can lead to feelings of isolation, and even depression. And hearing loss has been associated with cognitive impairment and decline, though some research suggests treating hearing loss can positively affect cognitive performance, especially in terms of memory.
When to see a doctor about your hearing loss
If you’re in doubt as to whether your hearing loss is significant enough to warrant medical attention, consider the following questions. Do you:
- constantly ask people to repeat what they’ve said?
- have trouble hearing in loud environments, including parties and restaurants?
- often think everyone else is mumbling?
- always turn the volume up on the TV?
- have difficulty hearing people over the phone?
- have trouble hearing dialogue at the movies?
If your answer to any of the questions was “yes,” you need to get your hearing checked.
What can an otolaryngologist (ENT) do about my hearing loss?
Otolaryngologists, also known as ENTs, are medical doctors trained in the management of diseases and disorders of the ear, nose, throat, and associated structures of the head and neck. They offer a broad range of services for ear disorders, including hearing loss.
Once the Oasis ENT team determines the extent of your hearing loss, they can recommend a specific device or treatment. Your treatment might involve:
- Antibiotics: clear up ear infections
- Earwax removal: removal either with suction or a small looped tool can reverse temporary hearing loss caused by a blockage
- Hearing aids: devices that fit into the ear and amplify sounds
- Cochlear implants: ear implant that stimulates auditory nerve instead of just amplifying sounds; typically work best for profound hearing loss
If you have Ménière's disease, it can sometimes be treated with medication and a different diet. Surgery is an option to reverse hearing loss caused by otosclerosis, scar tissue, or infection.
If you’ve noticed a sudden or gradual loss of hearing, it’s time to see a doctor about it. Give Oasis Ear, Nose, and Throat a call at 623-234-4640 to schedule a consultation with one of our doctors, or book online with us today.