At Medpark Hearing Center, we talk about treating your hearing as part of a larger system. That's one of the ways that being partnered with an ENT clinic allows us to help so many patients, especially those whose hearing loss needs a different treatment instead of, or in addition to, hearing aids. But what does that mean?
Sometimes, just answering a few questions can help get the wheels turning, and highlight a few areas that might point to hearing loss.
1. Do you have difficulty understanding the other person on the telephone?
2. Does it seem like most people around you are mumbling?
3. Is it difficult to understand one person's speech while there is background noise?
4. Do you find it difficult to understand the dialogue on TV unless you turn the volume up high?
5. Do you often need to ask others to repeat themselves?YES NO
To understand the treatment options for hearing loss, it's important to first know how to categorize hearing loss. All hearing loss falls into one of several categories, which helps medical professionals and hearing aid specialists determine the best way to treat each person's hearing loss. Most hearing conditions are either conductive or sensorineural.Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive is temporary - it means there's a medical condition causing you not to hear; the sound is not being conducted to reach your brain or the inside of your ear. In these cases, there's either an obstruction (like earwax), an infection, or drainage built up in your middle ear. If you hear gurgling, for example, that means there's fluid in the middle ear. It's like trying to run with three or four feet of water; obviously, your legs are not going to be able to move as fast.
With ears, it's the same thing: if the ossicles in the middle ear are under water, they will not be able to conduct high frequency sound as efficiently. That's why everything sounds muffled when you have a cold. If you have conductive hearing loss, we treat it medically. We can clear earwax or other blockages from your ear, or we can address the cause of the fluid in your ear - which in many cases means treating your allergies or an infection.
Sensorineural is permanent hearing loss. It means that the nerves in the inner ear have suffered actual damage, which could be caused by aging, ear infections, or prolonged exposure to loud noise. Unfortunately, sensorineural damage cannot be healed medically. But we can treat it, and the sooner we treat it, the better. Sensorineural loss responds well to hearing aids, which amplify the sound you hear to make up for the damage to your ears.
Some patients experience a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. In those cases, we first treat the conductive loss (such as removing the obstruction) and then bring in hearing aids as a possible solution for the sensorineural damage.
Hearing involves more than just your ears. Your brain is responsible for interpreting sound, and just like the rest of your hearing system, your brain can be involved in hearing loss. Even if you have hearing aids, you may still have a hard time understanding what you hear - because hearing and understanding are two different things.
Think about it this way: you can hear a foreign language spoken out loud, but if your brain doesn't understand that language, it will sound like noise to you. Understanding is the brain is part of the hearing system. If you go too long without being able to hear the world around you (due to conductive or sensorineural hearing loss), your brain may stop putting as much effort into understanding what you hear. If it gets out of the habit, then even hearing aids won't solve your ability to understand what people around you are saying.
That's why it is so important to get hearing loss treated early, so your brain still retains all of its skill at understanding and interpreting sounds. Auditory deprivation can lead to brain atrophy. And that's why every patient at Medpark Hearing Center goes through aural rehabilitation, which helps with both hearing and understanding what you hear.
Even if hearing aids can make you hear sounds loudly and clearly, they can't guarantee that you will understand what happens around you. Aural rehabilitation is a form of counseling that retrains your brain to understand what you hear, and it gives you tools and techniques (such as listening strategies or speechreading) to help you make the most of what you hear. More sophisticated hearing aid technology, such as Oticon's "brain hearing technology," can improve understandability in most patients. We'll talk to you about this technology if we think it would make a big difference for you.
Treatment can change your life. It can help you hear what the people you love are saying to you, and it can make it easier for you to get back into your favorite activities and hobbies. Being able to participate more fully in conversations can help you be confident and get ahead at work; it can bring you closer to the people around you; it can allow you to get more out of concerts, or football games, or just watching television with your family.
But it's also important that you understand what to expect. Your hearing aids can only help you as long as you're wearing them, and your aural rehabilitation can only make a difference if you put effort into it. Hearing care is not a magic solution; it is a partnership between the patient and the hearing specialist, and it requires both sides to try their best.
When you think of hearing aids, what comes to mind? For some people, the answer is an old-fashioned device that is beige, bulky, and prone to squealing. But that's a very outdated idea.
These days, hearing aids come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. Even the largest hearing aid models are still discreet and tasteful, and it is entirely possible to carry on conversations with people who never even notice that you're wearing a hearing aid. In fact, it's a lot more likely that people you speak with will notice if you ask them to repeat themselves all the time.
Hearing aids are also not likely to squeal, as long as you are wearing them properly. Technology has improved tremendously at reducing the feedback that used to cause squealing. If you have more severe hearing loss that might be more prone to feedback, we'll recommend a hearing aid style that minimizes that risk and is best suited for your hearing loss.
As hearing aid specialists with decades of experience, we've watched the evolution of modern technology in the past few years and are blown away by how powerful today's hearing aids can be. Bluetooth connectivity, long-distance adjustability, background noise reduction, rechargeable batteries - in so many large and small ways, technology has really revolutionized the experience of people who use hearing aids.
It can be hard to admit that you're not hearing or understanding the world around you as well as you used to. But it's important to stay on top of your hearing and address any problems as soon as you notice them to keep your brain healthy and give you peace-of-mind. Wearing hearing aids doesn't mean you're getting older. Hearing loss happens to people of all ages, and you'll feel younger for longer if hearing loss isn't getting in the way of staying active and doing things that make you happy.
If you have noticed that you're turning the volume of the TV up, if you're having to ask people to repeat themselves more often, if it seems like everyone around you is mumbling, it might be time to come have your hearing tested. The answer may be as simple as having your ears professionally cleaned - but whatever the cause may be, you'll be better off if you take your hearing health seriously and give yourself the best chance for a happy, healthy hearing life.