The ear is a complex structure that consists of an external ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. If one of these parts is compromised, hearing loss occurs. Nevertheless, there are treatment options available for the most common types of hearing loss.
Common Types of Hearing Loss
Sensoineural loss involves damage or malformation of the inner ear or an auditory nerve. Damage can come from loud noises, trauma, a congenital disorder or the aging process.
With a conductive loss, sounds never reach the inner ear. They are blocked by a physical structure, such as a growth or earwax.
Determining the Source of the Loss
When a Blockage is Present
Once your doctor has conducted a hearing test to confirm your hearing loss, he or she may perform an ear exam to determine if your ear canal is being obstructed. Here are a few common obstructions:
- Swelling from an injury
- A foreign object
If your audiologist identifies a blockage, appropriate measures are taken to remedy it. Ear wax can simply be cleaned from the ear. However, fluid that is due to an infection may be resolved with an antibiotic.
When No Blockage is Present
If an obstruction is ruled out, your audiologist may conduct a series of tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or auditory brain stem response (ABR) tests.
- MRIs provide detailed images of the cranial cavity, including the inner ear. These tests are usually done to rule out the possibility of a tumor or brain injury.
- ABR tests indicate how well your auditory nerve is working. In some cases, the nerve can be damaged or unresponsive.
Your treatment will depend on whether or not the loss of hearing is permanent.
Temporary Hearing Loss Treatment Options
Temporary hearing loss is often resolved by medication or time. Here are a few conditions that can cause temporary hearing loss and their associated treatment:
- Ear infections are usually treated with antibiotics. However, if the infection is minor, your doctor may allow it to resolve on its own.
- Medications, such as certain antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs and high-dose aspirin, that are toxic to the ear can cause hearing loss that returns after the medications are stopped.
- Auditory injuries can heal over time.
Permanent Hearing Loss Treatment Options
Permanent hearing loss is usually treated by devices that enhance sound reception, such as the following:
- Hearing aids that can be worn on the outside or inside of the ear can amplify desirable sounds and minimize background noise.
- Implants can be surgically placed to enhance or replace the functionality of the inner ear.
If you are having difficulty hearing, the first step in treatment is a visit to your doctor. He or she can perform appropriate auditory tests to determine the cause your hearing loss. Often, an effective treatment option is available.