This week I have been finding out about hearing difficulties. I have discovered that the main reasons for hearing loss are either sensorineural or conductive.
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when either (or sometimes both) the hairs of the inner ear or the auditory nerve are damaged. The latter is responsible for sending sound messages to the brain.
Conductive hearing loss occurs when the ear is blocked, usually due to earwax or glue ear.
After repeated exposure to loud noises, such as excessively high volume music or work-related drilling and banging, the hairs of the inner ear can become damaged and flattened, or the auditory nerve itself may be damaged. Additionally, the ageing process will also tend to produce a similar type of decline, but more gradual, from around the age of 40. By later life, the hearing loss will tend to be very noticeable, and hence problematic.
Other less common and lesser known causes of hearing loss include: gene inheritance; infection complications from mumps, measles or rubella; Meniere’s disease – a combination of vertigo, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and ear blockage; stroke and cardiovascular damage; the side-effects of some medications, such as antibiotics and cancer treatments; plus a benign growth, on or near to the auditory nerve, called an acoustic neuroma.
In the case of sensorineural hearing loss, an MRI scan will usually be taken, mainly to rule out the complications of an acoustic neuroma being present. Although acoustic neuromas are small and slow growing, if they get larger they will produce symptoms such as dizziness, tinnitus and balance disturbances, or sometimes complications such as hydrocephalus (water on the brain). Treatment would either be via surgery or radiation. A hearing aid will also usually be offered for sensorineural hearing loss.
Hearing aids are available free of charge on the NHS, and usually tend to be very good quality digital models. Maintenance and batteries are also completely free for life. Hearing aids will either be behind the ear (BTE), in the ear (ITE), in the canal (ITC) or completely in the canal (CIC). The behind the ear hearing aids are standard NHS provision and come in a choice of discreet beige, brown or silver, although some brighter colours are available on request. The other types of hearing aid, including the ‘invisible’ type, must be privately sourced by individuals, and tend to be quite costly (starting at around £300 for a single hearing aid, rising to as much as £3500 for a pair). However, as NHS hearing aids are now more up-to-date, and of a very good quality, they are apparently much more acceptable to the majority of service users. Two good quality hearing aid leaflets are available from Action on Hearing Loss, via http://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/supporting-you/factsheets-and-leaflets/hearing-aids.aspx
Typical NHS model
After repeated build-up of ear wax, an accumulation of fluid or ear infections, conductive hear loss will be the result. Less commonly, it may also be caused by a perforated ear drum or otosclerosis, an abnormal bone growth in the middle ear.
Conductive hearing loss is usually reversible by simple procedures such as removal of ear wax, medication or minor surgery.
Here in the UK, people with long-term hearing problems can seek further support and advice from the charity Action on Hearing Loss (formerly the Royal National Institute for the Deaf) and may even receive animal assistance from Hearing Dogs for Deaf People.
Action on Hearing Loss. (2015). http://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/
Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. (2015). http://www.hearingdogs.org.uk/
National Health Service Choices. (2015). Hearing Aids. Accessed 25 June, 2015, from http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/hearing-problems/Pages/hearing-aids.aspx
National Health Service Choices. (2015). Hearing Loss. Accessed 25 June, 2015, from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Hearing-impairment/Pages/Introduction.aspx
Patient Information. (2015). Acoustic Neuroma. Accessed 25 June, 2015, from http://patient.info/health/acoustic-neuroma-leaflet
Patient Information. (2015). Otosclerosis. Accessed 25 June, 2015, from http://patient.info/health/otosclerosis-leaflet
Patient Information. (2015). Perforated Eardrum. Accessed 25 June, 2015, from http://patient.info/health/perforated-eardrum