How can hearing loss be treated?

Frustrated with hearing loss? Here’s how modern cochlear technology can help relieve your problems.

Written by Amanda Brown

If you are experiencing hearing loss, you may feel like people are mumbling or talking too quickly. You may find that people comment you have the TV volume up loud. It may be particularly difficult to clearly hear female voices or children, as their voices are generally higher pitched, and you may find it harder to hear voices when there’s background noise, or when someone is talking to you from a distance. You may find it is increasingly difficult to hear when you cannot see the speakers face, which commonly occurs when we talk to each other in the home environment.

It can be very frustrating, not just for the person with a hearing loss but also for others close to them. Quite often it is those around the person with the hearing loss that notice the problem first. Someone with a hearing loss may also start to feel isolated, as it becomes increasingly difficult to participate in group conversations or when out socially.

Everyone over the age of 50 should have a hearing test or earlier if you experience any of the above difficulties. The sooner you get your hearing tested the better. It is a painless process that will give you very accurate results in a reasonably short amount of time. Once you have had your hearing tested, the results will be explained to you and any further treatment will be discussed.

"All hearing aids are now digital, but it goes much beyond that. We are now routinely using wireless communication between the hearing devices fitted to each ear."

What causes hearing loss?

The most common cause of permanent hearing loss is wear and tear of the tiny hair cells in the cochlear over time. The hair cells in the cochlear convert the incoming sound waves into nerve impulses which travel up the auditory nerve to the brain. When these hair cells are damaged this is called a sensorineural hearing loss. The impact of this is a loss in the ability to hear the softer, usually high-pitched components of sounds and reduces the clarity with which we hear sounds.

Unfortunately, ageing is the most contributing factor for hearing loss, which means there is not a lot that can be done in terms of prevention. However, being exposed to loud noise over a sustained period further exacerbates the wear and tear of the hair cells in the cochlea. Wearing hearing protection when exposed to loud noise is essential to prevent further damage.

How hearing devices can help you

We are now using very advanced technology to provide amazing outcomes to people with hearing loss. All hearing aids are now digital, but it goes much beyond that. We are now routinely using wireless communication between the hearing devices fitted to each ear. We can stream from your mobile phone, TV or computer via Bluetooth to your hearing devices. Also, we can use apps on your mobile phone to adjust a hearing device to meet your individual preferences.

With a correctly fitted hearing device, programmed to your particular hearing needs, we can generally amplify the sounds the cochlear is no longer picking up. The sooner you address a hearing loss, the better the outcome as the brain needs to be kept stimulated to ensure you process sounds efficiently, especially when trying to listen to speech in the presence of background noise.

Hearing devices myths and facts

A common myth is that if you get hearing devices too early, it will make the ears lazy. It is actually quite the opposite. We hear sounds once the nerve impulses reach the brain and the longer the brain is missing out on part of the message, the harder it becomes to get the auditory part of the brain working efficiently.

People also think hearing devices amplify everything in the environment, whereas they’re actually very sophisticated devices, programmed only to amplify the frequencies (or pitch) that the person’s cochlear is not picking up. People will hear stories of hearing devices ending up in the drawer because all they did was amplify the noise, when in fact it is usually because the person has put off addressing their hearing loss for too long and don’t wear the devices consistently. It’s as the saying goes, use it or lose it. This very much applies to the efficiency of the brain in hearing speech in the presence of background noise.

Written by Amanda Brown

Amanda Brown has been an audiologist for over 20 years, with experience in Australia and the UK across both the public and private sectors. She is currently the Head Audiological Trainer at AudioClinic, and is the former President of the NSW branch of the Audiological Society of Australia.

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