How Is Hearing Loss Treated?

The manner in which hearing loss is treated depends greatly on the type and degree of hearing loss an individual has been diagnosed with. Hearing loss is broken into three categories: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed.

Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is some sort of obstacle in the outer ear or middle ear preventing sound from being conducted to the cochlea (inner ear). Common causes of conductive hearing loss include cerumen (wax) occluding the outer ear (ear canal), a perforation in the tympanic membrane (eardrum), an ear infection, or a disruption of the ossicles (the bones in the middle ear that conduct sound from the eardrum to the inner ear).

Treatment for conductive hearing loss typically involves removing or repairing whatever it is that is preventing the conduction of sound. In the case of impacted cerumen, an audiologist or physician may remove it. In the cases of infections, perforations in the tympanic membrane, or disruptions to the ossicles, physicians perform surgical procedures or prescribe medications. In some instances, where these treatments are ineffectual, an audiologist will provide hearing aids. Hearing aids, if medical and/or surgical options are exhausted, are usually quite beneficial with conductive hearing losses.

Due to decades of medical advancements that have allowed for very effective treatments of infection, the most common type of hearing loss is sensorineural; according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), 90% of all cases of hearing loss are sensorineural in nature. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is a decline in the performance of sensory cells in the cochlea, the cochlea’s connection to the auditory nerve, or to the auditory nerve itself. Causes of sensorineural hearing loss include age, side effects of medications, symptoms of other health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, thyroid conditions, kidney conditions and others.

In very rare cases, benign tumors may be present on the auditory nerve, and these cases, once discovered, require monitoring by audiologists and physicians. Sometimes, after monitoring, surgical removal eventually becomes a necessity due to the proximity of these tumors to the brainstem.

At this point in time, with the exception of a few very rare circumstances, there are no pharmaceutical or surgical interventions that can reverse sensorineural hearing loss, and hearing aids are the most common treatment. Individuals with severe to profound amounts of sensorineural hearing loss who receive little to no benefit from hearing aids are often candidates for cochlear implants. The technology of both hearing aids and cochlear implants have advanced significantly in the digital age and in recent years, devices that are a hybrid of cochlear implants and hearing aids have been introduced to the market.

Hearing aids, in most states, are provided with a trial period during which an individual can ensure that the devices are meeting their listening needs. The devices are programmed and dispensed by hearing instrument specialists or audiologists. Cochlear implants are surgically implanted by otologic surgeons and after post-operative healing, programmed by audiologists.