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Hearing Education

Often times we take our hearing for granted, but our hearing health is directly linked to our brain and overall well-being. When you can’t hear, your brain stops processing certain sounds which has been connected to a decline in cognitive ability. Our hearing also helps us to stay balanced, so if you suffer from hearing loss then you may feel dizzy, nauseous, or have an increase in falls. Even if you don’t have hearing loss but you do have frequent ear infections, you should visit a medical professional. Reoccurring ear infections can cause temporary hearing loss and permanent damage to the middle ear. In order to stay healthy it’s important to have your hearing checked annually and to get hearing aids if you have been diagnosed with hearing loss in order to ensure your overall well-being.

Types of Hearing Loss

There are two main types of hearing loss. There is either a problem of sound getting in (conductive loss) or problem of the nerve picking up sound (sensorineural loss). The causes of hearing loss vary from infection and trauma to merely the process of aging.

  • Conductive loss: Conductive hearing loss is the failure to transfer sounds through the external and middle ear to a well-functioning inner ear nerve. This can be caused by blockage of earwax, air pressure or fluid build-up, or from traumatic injury to the head or ear.
  • Sensorineural loss: Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the nerve of the ear fails to pick up the sounds that are brought in from the outer and middle ear. This can be caused by age, damage to the inner-ear nerve, traumatic injury, toxic medications, or noise-induced trauma.

Both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids, which help patients interact more efficiently with their surroundings.

Signs of Hearing Loss

It can be difficult to notice your hearing loss at first. Most of the time hearing loss happens gradually over a long period of time. Some signs that you have hearing loss include:

  • You feel tired or even exhausted after being in a group of people.
  • You have to strain to hear in noisy restaurants, groups activities, or any place where there are multiple people.
  • When you go to the movie theater you can’t hear what is happening.
  • You can no longer enjoy music.
  • You are turning the TV volume up louder.
  • It’s difficult to hear high pitched voices such as women and children.

Adjusting to Hearing Aids

When you receive your first pair of hearing aids it can be an adjustment to get used to them being in your ears, and hearing sounds you might have not heard in years. When we first program your hearing aids we don’t set them at their full amplification. We will ask you what’s comfortable and if you’re having difficulty, then we can set them to a lower volume. It’s important that you wear your hearing aids every day so your ears and brain can adjust to them.

You can start slowly and wear them for a few hours at a time then wear them for a longer time the next day, as long as you are wearing them every day. We program our hearing aids correctly the first time so you shouldn’t have any trouble adjusting. But, in case you do experience any kind of discomfort with the devices inside your ear or with the level of the amplification, then we will reprogram them to better suit you. Just remember it can take a few weeks for your brain to adjust to processing sounds again, the more you wear your hearing aids then the quicker you will get used to them.

Ear Infections

Ear infections (scientifically called otitis media) involves the blockage of the eustachian tubes causing a virus or bacteria to contaminate the middle ear. For adults ear infections are often caused by a cold, allergies, smoking, or problems with the adenoids. Ear infections are much more common in children and symptoms include ear pain, fever, irritability, decreased hearing, drainage from the ear, and pressure in the ear.

Ear infections often clear up without complication and do not usually require any medical attention. However, recurring infections or ones that are extremely painful should be looked at by a professional. If your child suffers from more than three infections in six months or four in a year, then they may be a candidate for ear tube placement. Treatment for ear infections includes antibiotics, however most cases of ear infections dissipate on their own.

Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s ear is very similar to ear infections because it occurs when bacteria or fungus grows inside the ear canal and causes an infection. The difference, however, is that swimmer’s ear is experienced by individuals who have water that remains in their ears. Other actions can also cause swimmer’s ear such as putting cotton swabs or other objects into the ear canal which damage the skin inside. Symptoms of swimmer’s ear are not extreme but can worsen over time if left untreated. You may notice itching, decreased hearing, or drainage accompanied by redness inside the ear. Treatment for swimmer’s ear involves cleaning the infected debris from the ear canal by an ENT, antibiotic drops and dry ear precautions.

© Benjamin Liess, MD, FACS