The Detection and Management of Hearing Loss

The risk of hearing loss, despite the widely-held contrary beliefs, is not one that is confined to the elderly. That said, there is no doubt at all that most people are likely to experience a gradual decline in their ability to hear over the course of their lifetime. This is a slow process that is known as presbycusis and one that is barely discernible and should seldom create any serious difficulties, at least until the subject is well into his or her retirement years.

By contrast, there are a number of factors that can result in a premature loss of acuity and, while some are preventable or even reversible, in other forms of hearing loss, early recognition in order to initiate an effective management strategy can prove vital. It needs to be emphasised that within the current constraints of modern medicine, there are no cures for auditory impairment, but only supportive technology that can help those affected to cope with their condition more effectively. Because, in all cases, without some effective form of management, the condition is a progressive one, this serves to further underline the importance of recognising it as early as possible. This is especially true in the case of children and young adults whose future lifestyle may otherwise be severely compromised.

Among those who experience hearing loss, ear infections and repeated, prolonged exposure to loud noise are the most common causes. While the diminished acuity is normally reversible in the case of treated acute infections, if neglected and allowed to become chronic, damage is often permanent. The same applies to noise. Without recovery time between exposures, permanent impairment is inevitable.

Any hint of impairment requires thorough investigation. A physical examination will identify infections and allow timely treatment, while in the absence of such visible signs an audiological examination is indicated. This involves the subject listening through headphones to sounds at different frequencies within the range that is normally audible to humans. To check for signs of hearing loss, the volume is increased gradually until the subject indicates that he or she is able to hear it by pressing a button. This action, in turn, registers a point on a graph corresponding to the volume required at each frequency. The resulting audiogram provides visible confirmation of the frequencies affected and to what degree.

Both areas will be evaluated and other tests performed in order to identify the type of impairment, whether of the conductive or sensorineural type, or mixed. This provides additional information that will assist the audiologist in selecting the most appropriate management strategy which, in cases of mild to moderate hearing loss, will normally be a hearing aid or perhaps even a pair when both ears affected.

Although these modern electronic aids are highly efficient, they do have limitations. In cases where there is severe sensorineural damage or in which the overall degree of impairment is profound, a cochlear implant may prove to be the only viable alternative. The suitability of a patient for an implanted device will also need to be determined before submitting him or her to the surgery, as well as to the considerable expense of the complete procedure, including the device, follow-ups and rehabilitation. At our Ear Institute clinics, we offer a professional evaluation of hearing loss and advanced management solutions.

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