Hearing loss happens to many people during their lifetime, and it can be an extremely difficult condition to live with. It can have wide-ranging repercussions ranging from damaging your ability to hold conversations, to enjoying personal hobbies such as listening to music and watching films. In certain circumstances, it could even pose a danger by increasing your risk of being involved in an accident.
All of this means hearing loss has more than a physical toll on the body; it can also have a mental one. It can be the catalyst of a downward mood spiral, and ultimately either cause or contribute to depression. Can your hearing actually be restored?
How does hearing loss happen?
There are many different ways that a patient can suffer from hearing loss. These range from the side effects of medications, to physical abnormality, accidents, the results of a disease or infection, blunt trauma, or excessive loud volume to name a few. Arguably the most common form of hearing loss, however, is down to age. It’s estimated that for every 20 years of age, people lose 10% hearing capacity.
Very few people will have one singular cause of hearing loss. For most, it will be a combination of other factors that have contributed to their condition, which can make diagnosing the condition more complicated.
The three types of hearing loss
Usually, hearing loss is classified under one of three categories; sensorineural, conductive, or mixed.
Sensorineural hearing loss is the most commonly seen, and it’s most often caused by damage to the auditory nerve or the inner ear. Both these parts of the ear are extremely delicate and complicated, which makes them susceptible to damage. It also makes treatment difficult. This is where hearing loss is usually considered permanent. Some of the most common causes for this type of hearing loss include natural degradation due to age, exposure to loud volume, or diseases. There can also be genetic contributing factors, too.
The other kind of hearing loss is conductive hearing loss. This can be caused by a range of issues in the outer or middle ear. There are many common factors involved, such as blockage from earwax/puss/other substances, abnormalities in the bone, or damage sustained to the eardrum. Both the middle and outer ear are more robust than the inner ear, so aren’t so prone to getting damaged. They’re also easier to access, which means that restoring hearing is that much easier. This gives patients a higher chance of receiving successful treatment.
The third classification of hearing loss is mixed, whereby factors from both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss are present. Treatment success varies depending on how much each type of hearing loss contributes to the wider problem.
What about tinnitus?
Tinnitus is generally understood to be a consistent or intermittent noise heard by the sufferer. The noise can range from ringing, hissing, and chirping, to whistling, hissing, or a range of other sounds. Tinnitus and hearing loss aren’t always linked but, in many cases, it can be an early indicating factor that a portion of the ear is damaged or is otherwise not working properly.
Often tinnitus will be classed as a sensorineural case, as the result of damage to the cochlea or cochlear nerves which are parts of the inner ear. Tinnitus can be a frustrating condition to live with and can impact your overall ability to hear. It’s a symptom of a wider problem, however, not a specific disease itself. As such tinnitus can indicate hearing loss, but not cause it.
The frequency of overlap means both conditions are often treated at the same time.
Can hearing loss be reversed?
The simplest answer is that it depends. As mentioned above, instances of conductive hearing loss have a higher probability of being successfully treated than sensorineural hearing loss. As conductive hearing loss generally originates in the middle to the outer ear, it makes accessibility for treatment much simpler. It also allows the use of much less invasive treatment methods. In some cases, even a simple deep ear cleaning can help considerably alleviate the symptoms, or even eradicate the problem altogether.
Sensorineural is generally considered to be a more permanent type of hearing loss. There are no definites, however. It all depends on your circumstances, what is causing the hearing loss, and how bad it is. For example, it may be possible to wear a hearing aid, which will not restore your natural hearing but it will combat the symptoms you’re encountering and allow you to hear more clearly. There may be other treatment options open to you too, such as cochlear implants or other forms of restorative surgery.
Sound therapy may also be something to consider for certain patients. This can be particularly useful when patients present with symptoms of tinnitus as well as general hearing loss, as it can help distract them from the persistent sound of the tinnitus. In certain cases sound stimulus can be used to override the symptoms, making life more comfortable.
There are also ongoing medical trials into other options such as stem cell research, gene therapy, and viral therapy. These disciplines are progressing all the time which means the even if there is not a restorative option in the present, there may be one in the near future. That should give all sufferers of hearing loss some degree of hope.
What should you do?
While not all kinds of hearing loss can be reversed, there are many things specialists can do to help combat the symptoms and make life more comfortable. The thing to do is to arrange to see a specialist the moment you begin to notice anything out of the ordinary with your hearing. If conversations are becoming difficult to hear, you’re experiencing a constant noise you can’t ignore but nobody else hears, you feel any issues with your balance, or you experience any pain in your ears, call our London clinic and speak to one of our experts immediately.
The sooner your condition is diagnosed the quicker you can begin treatment and the better chance you have of having your hearing restored.