What should I do if I have hearing loss?
First let's talk about what you shouldn't do...
- Don't waste your time at the emergency, your primary care physician or a local walk-in clinic. Why not? They're just going to charge you money and then recommend you see a specialist.
- Don't put off getting this checked out. In the event that you have sudden hearing loss treatment needs to start immediately if you want any chance of recovering at all. Normally, you would be given some type of steroid.
- Don't stick something in your ears thinking you're going to clean them out and solve the problem. And don't laugh either, because this happens...a lot.
So, what should you do?
If you think your hearing loss is due to a medical issue, see an otolaryngologist/otologist. An otolaryngologist may also be referred to as an Ear, Nose, and Throat physician (ENT) and an otologist is a physician who specializes in the ear.
Some indications that your hearing loss may be due to a medical issue:
- Pain or pressure in the ear
- Sudden onset of hearing loss (i.e. you woke up with hearing loss in one or both ears)
- Bleeding or drainage from the ear
- Dizziness in conjunction with the hearing loss
The otolaryngologist may recommend a series of exams to determine the extent and cause of your hearing loss. These exams may include:
- An audiological evaluation (hearing test) performed by an Audiologist
- CT Scan of the temporal bone
- Videonystagmography exam if you are also experiencing dizziness
If the physician indeed finds that your hearing loss is due to a medical issue they will treat your hearing loss as needed. This may be as simple as removing cerumen (wax) from your ears or may require pharmaceuticals or possibly surgery.
If you do not have any of the above conditions, but have noticed your hearing loss gradually declining over time, see an Audiologist. An Audiologist is a clinician who specializes in hearing loss. Audiologists hold a Doctorate degree in Audiology (Au.D.) or a Master’s degree in Audiology. They are trained to diagnose and treat hearing disorders.
Some indications that you may have a hearing loss:
- You have to turn the television up to hear or understand it
- People sound like they are not speaking clearly or mumbling
- You have difficulty understanding certain people, especially in background noise
- You hear ringing or buzzing in your ears
The Audiologist will perform a series of exams to determine the extent of your hearing loss. If the Audiologist finds that your hearing loss is due to a medical issue, they will refer you to see an otolaryngologist/otologist. If your hearing loss is not due to a medically treatable condition, the Audiologist will recommend different rehabilitation options for your hearing loss, to include:
- Hearing aids (traditional, extended wear, CROS, BiCROS)
- Implantable devices (Baha, cochlear implant)
- Assistive listening devices (amplified telephone, FM system, Infrared)
- Communication strategies
A couple more things on hearing.
Your hearing is degenerative, just like the rest of the organs in your body. So, as you get older it is not uncommon to experience hearing loss. However, like most things, hearing loss can be prevented, or at least delayed by using the following techniques:
- Avoid being around high decibel noises for extended periods of time. You'd think this would be obvious to most people, but I assure you it is not. If you're having to yell to communicate you are likely undergoing noise induced hearing loss.
- Wear ear plugs if you know you will be in heavy noise exposure areas.
- Not jamming q-tips or other objects down your ear. Believe it or not that wax is there to protect your ear drum from all the dirt and grime you encounter.
Can you do anything about hearing loss?
As of today, no. Hearing loss can not be reversed (but it can be mitigated if you have sudden hearing loss and see a specialist immediately). Essentially once you damage the hair follicles in your inner ear, they have no way to repair.