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Can Hearing Be Restored?

Hearing loss is a common problem in the United States population, but it isn’t often talked about. In addition to naturally losing some hearing as you get older, you might also suffer hearing loss due to injury or illness. Many people who spend a lot of time in loud construction sites or near explosions without hearing protection find that there’s a permanent effect on their ability to hear.

For some people, hearing loss happens so gradually that it’s barely noticeable. For others, the experience is traumatic. A person’s relationship with their hearing loss is an intensely personal thing that varies from individual to individual. Many people who have lost part of their hearing experience physical, psychological, and social issues. It’s normal to wonder whether the hearing loss is reversible.

There are several different circumstances in which hearing loss can be reversed, or at the very least helped. Hearing loss comes in three main types, all of which must be approached slightly differently in terms of hearing restoration. An evaluation by hearing specialists can help determine whether hearing aid technology has the potential to reduce your hearing loss.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

This is the most common kind of hearing loss, which occurs when there’s permanent damage to the cilia or the auditory nerve. The cilia are tiny cells resembling hairs inside the ear. These delicate hairs vibrate in response to sound waves, which the nervous system sends to the brain. From there, the brain interprets the information as sound.

Sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by Meniere’s disease. It can also be caused by normal changes in the ear during the aging process.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs less commonly than sensorineural loss. This type of hearing loss occurs when damage or obstruction in the middle or outer ear causes sound to be blocked from reaching the inner ear. Conductive hearing loss does not involve permanent damage to the auditory nerve and inner ear.

The underlying cause of hearing loss is crucial in determining whether or not it’s permanent. Some causes may be simple, like a wax impaction. Once the wax is removed, hearing is restored. Other causes might involve traumatic injury, like a breakage in the connection running between the delicate bones that make up the middle ear.

Mixed Hearing Loss

This is the rarest form of hearing loss because it involves a combination of the other two types. One common example would be an elderly person whose natural sensorineural hearing loss is made worse by an impaction of wax that’s led to conductive hearing loss.

If the cause of the conductive hearing loss can be resolved, some hearing can be restored in these cases.

Sensorineural Hearing Restoration

Sensorineural hearing loss technically can’t be “cured.” When the cilia and auditory nerve become damaged, that damage cannot undergo any repairs. However, the use of digital hearing aids can help restore some of the ear’s function. The same is true of cochlear implants, though these are more invasive and might not work. Some hearing loss won’t be reversible.

Cochlear implants function by bypassing the damaged or injured part of the inner ear. The implant provides direct stimulation to your auditory nerve, so you don’t need the hairs inside your inner ear to pick up delicate vibrations. Cochlear implants have shown strong results in reversing sensorineural hearing loss, even in people whose loss is severe.

Hearing aids come in several different styles and options. They each operate with the same basic premise. A microphone picks up sounds and sends them to a computer chip. The computer chip then turns the sounds into digitized code and carries them to the inner ear, which helps to amplify them. The majority of hearing aids work digitally, and they’re all powered with a battery. Hearing aids are calibrated to adjust sound levels based on your unique hearing loss.

Conductive Hearing Restoration

Restoring conductive hearing loss is an endeavor that depends entirely on the underlying cause of the loss. Some of the situations also depend on how extensive the problem is. There have been individuals who have restored the majority of their hearing, and many people can regain at least some hearing. But with that said, there have been cases in which individuals are unable to regain their hearing.

If the hearing loss is caused by a removable blockage, then treating the blockage tends to lead to full hearing restoration. Some of the most common things that cause blockages are infections, foreign objects in the ear, abnormal growths, and wax impaction. Foreign objects and wax can sometimes be removed noninvasively. Infections are generally treated with a course of antibiotics. If there’s an abnormal growth, it can be removed through surgery.

If the hearing loss is caused by certain abnormalities of the ear, there might not be a medical restoration option available. Some of these abnormalities include:

  • Ear canal stenosis, which is when an abnormally narrow ear canal blocks sound
  • Thickening of the ear canal’s surrounding bone, which leads to blocked sound
  • Abnormal growths around a bone in the middle ear called the stapes bone
  • Abnormal separation of the bones located in the middle ear

Medical options to address this are limited. However, you and your doctor might try a variety of solutions including:

  • Traditional hearing aid technology
  • Hearing aids that conduct sound through bone
  • Implantable hearing devices anchored to the bone
  • Implants for the middle ear

The Final Outlook

There are three main types of hearing loss, all of which can have different underlying causes. Certain treatments and technologies may be able to restore some of your hearing function, but there’s no guarantee. The best way to find out whether you have a chance to restore your hearing is through a consultation with your doctor. Your general practitioner might refer you to hearing specialists.

About the Becker Hearing Center

Karen McQuaide, Au.D. is an expert audiologist with over two decades of experience practicing at the Penn Medicine Becker Hearing Center of New Jersey. She has provided patients in the Voorhees and Robbinsville areas with optimal hearing treatments as well as helped those with balance disorders.

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