Individuals that experience reduced hearing resulting from a problem to one or more parts of their ear might be suffering from hearing loss. Affecting individuals of all ages, this occurs when sound waves are not able to travel completely through the entirety of the external ear canal up to the vibration of the eardrum. This can also extend to the cochlea which might not be stimulated to transmit signals to the auditory nerves (hearing nerves) and finally the brain for processing.
There are currently three types of hearing loss;
Conductive hearing loss - occurs when sound waves are not transmitted properly from the outside environment to the cochlea
Presbycusis - is the hearing loss that occurs with ageing
Sensorineural hearing loss - occurs when the cochlea or auditory nerves are damaged
There may be various reasons that lead to obstructive hearing loss, but these commonly include:
Drugs - including certain antibiotics and cancer drugs, can damage some of the hearing nerves or the sensory cells of the cochlea, and therefore lead to otitis media (a group of inflammatory diseases of the middle ear).
Problems affecting the external ear canal, eardrum, middle ear bones, or middle ear space.
Chronic diseases or trauma can cause the eardrum to burst, or the middle ear bones to be dislodged, damaged or fixed.
Middle ear infections, also known as otitis media. Otitis media occurs due to a variety of causes including increasing age, inner ear viral and bacterial infections (mumps, measles, influenza), ménière disease (inner ear disorder that affects balance and hearing), and damage to the sensory cells in the cochlea due to acute or chronic exposure to loud noises.
Blockage due to wax or foreign objects, which can also lead to infection.
Ranging to sudden or gradual onset, hearing loss can affect one or both of an individual's ears and their symptoms include:
Difficulty understanding what other people are saying, especially against background noise
Earache and ear discharge due to ear infections
Frequently asking for directions or conversations to be repeated
Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
Speaking louder than normal
Spinning sensations (vertigo)
Withdrawal from conversations
Treatment is possible and completely depends on the type of hearing loss experienced. Your specialist will evaluate your condition in order to provide you with the most accurate form of treatment available:
If hearing loss is caused by ear wax build-up or a foreign body in the ear canal, your ENT surgeon can remove it under a microscope.
If hearing loss is caused by an external ear infection, you may be prescribed some topical antibiotics.
If hearing loss is caused by a burst eardrum, your treatment will target the underlying cause. Surgical repair may be necessary to fix a burst eardrum if it is not repaired within three months, or if you suffer from frequent ear infections and associated ear discharge.
If hearing loss is caused by certain medications, your doctor will prescribe different medications or ask you to stop taking them.
If hearing loss is caused by ageing (presbycusis), there is no cure. Your ENT specialist might recommend a hearing aid depending on your condition. Otherwise treatment will be aimed at protecting your hearing as much as possible to slow down further loss.