Ask the Expert
Our audiologists believe patient education is an important part of allowing people to make the best choice regarding their hearing loss treatment. For your convenience, we have put together answers to some frequently asked questions about hearing loss and the various types of treatment available.
- What is hearing loss?
- What are some of the causes of hearing loss?
- How do I know if I suffer from hearing loss?
- What is the ringing in my ears?
- Can hearing aids restore perfect hearing?
- How do I know what hearing aid style is best for me?
- What is the difference between digital and analog hearing aids?
- Is it better to have one or two hearing aids?
- Are hearing aids covered by insurance?
- How often should I repair and replace my hearing aid?
What is hearing loss?
Hearing loss occurs when an individual is unable to hear a full range of high-pitched and low-pitched sounds. According to recent studies, an estimated 30 million people in America suffer from some degree of hearing loss. There are three common types of hearing loss:
- Conductive hearing loss occurs when damage to the middle or outer ear prevents incoming sound waves from reaching the inner ear. Individuals with conductive hearing loss experience a muting of sounds in all frequencies. Certain medications or surgery can be used to treat this type of hearing loss; however, if left untreated, conductive hearing loss can lead to permanent hearing impairment.
- Sensorineural hearing loss, also called nerve deafness, occurs when the inner ear or acoustic nerve becomes damaged, making it difficult to hear sounds and understand speech. Sensorineural hearing loss is not only the most common type of hearing loss, but it is also permanent. The only treatment that exists for this type of hearing loss is a hearing aid.
- Mixed hearing loss occurs when an individual has a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. This means these individuals have experienced damage to both the inner and middle or outer ear.
The certified audiologists at our practice provide hearing evaluations for children and adults to determine what type of hearing loss each of our patients is experiencing.
What are some of the causes of hearing loss?
There are many causes of hearing loss, including:
- Noise-induced hearing loss — Hearing loss resulting from loud noises heard repeatedly over time. It is one of the most common causes of hearing loss, and the most preventable.
- Presbycusis — Hearing loss resulting from aging. This type of hearing loss is also quite common.
- Genetic hearing loss — Hearing loss due to genetic factors. Scientists estimate genes and hereditary cause at least half of all hearing loss cases.
- Temporary blockage — Hearing loss that occurs as the result of blockage from earwax or other fluids and ear infections. This type of hearing loss is common for people with allergies or swimmer's ear.
- Disease — Hearing loss due to diseases, like Meniere's disease or meningitis.
- Ototoxic medications — Hearing loss as a result of certain medications and medical treatments that are toxic to the ear.
- Otitis media — also known as ear infection, this is the most common cause of hearing loss in children.
- Otosclerosis — Hearing loss that results from abnormal bone growth in the middle ear.
- Ear or head injuries — Hearing loss resulting from tumors, eardrum perforations, and other head injuries.
How do I know if I suffer from hearing loss?
Because hearing loss sets in slowly over time, it can sometimes be hard to tell if you are losing your hearing. You may be suffering from hearing loss if you:
- Misunderstand conversations, especially in crowded areas
- Turn the television or radio up so loud that it disturbs others
- Hear better in one ear than the other
- Feel that people speak too softly or mumble when they talk to you
- Ask people to repeat what they said
- Experience difficulty talking on the phone
- Find it difficult to hear the doorbell or telephone ring
- Experience ringing or buzzing in the ears
The only way to know for sure if you are experiencing hearing loss is to undergo a hearing evaluation.
What is the ringing in my ears?
If you hear ringing, whistling, chirping, hissing, or clicking in your ears, you probably have a condition known as tinnitus. It can occur periodically or constantly in one or both ears. Tinnitus results from noise damage to the ear or from age-related hearing loss. According to the American Tinnitus Association, approximately 50 million Americans experience some degree of tinnitus, and 12 million of these suffer from severe cases. Tinnitus cannot be cured; however, hearing aids and other treatments can help individuals deal with this condition.
Can hearing aids restore perfect hearing?
Unfortunately, hearing aids cannot fully restore perfect hearing. Hearing aids are designed to amplify environmental sounds so they are easier for individuals to hear. Although they cannot restore hearing once it is lost, studies show that hearing loss can be dealt with effectively with hearing aids.
How do I know what hearing aid style is best for me?
Not all hearing aid sizes and styles are made to suit everyone's needs. Different hearing aids work better for different people. If you are thinking about investing in a hearing aid, there are a few things to consider when looking for the most appropriate device for your condition.
The type of hearing aid you should invest in depends on the nature and sensitivity of your hearing loss. An audiologist will recommend different hearing aid devices for people with a mild degree of hearing loss than for those with severe hearing loss. You should also consider what kind of sound quality you are looking for.
Determining what kinds of hearing aid features are useful and/or practical for you and your lifestyle is also important. Individuals who spend lots of time outdoors or in crowded areas will have different needs than individuals who spend most of their time in quiet areas, and will therefore require different features for their hearing aids. Hearing aid features available will range from automatic volume control to the size and visibility of each device.
Together, you and your audiologist can determine which type of hearing aid is best for your needs. You can then be properly fitted for a customized hearing device. Our practice also offers trial and adjustment periods so you can be sure your hearing aid is compatible with your lifestyle.
What is the difference between digital and analog hearing aids?
Although all hearing aids function to help individuals hear more clearly, there are many differences between analog hearing aids and their newer digital counterparts. Less expensive, analog hearing aids amplify all sounds equally to help improve general hearing quality. However, because analog hearing aids cannot distinguish between speech and background noise, all sounds are magnified to the same degree. The volume differences in various environments can also force wearers to constantly adjust the volume on their analog hearing aids. Because of this, analog devices are best for people who do most of their communication in a quiet environment.
On the other hand, digital hearing aids have solved many of the problems associated with analog hearing aids. Digital devices contain a microchip that helps differentiate between speech and noise by converting sound into digital code. This results in more finely tuned sound and allows individuals to hear more clearly. Also, digital hearing aids can be programmed for different environments, so individuals can enjoy the best sound quality anywhere they go without having to adjust the volume on their hearing devices.
Is it better to have one or two hearing aids?
It is always better to have two hearing aids, especially if the individual wearing the hearing aids has symmetrical hearing loss. This is because two hearing aids can restore stereophonic hearing, making speech clearer, especially when there is background noise. It also allows wearers to better localize the sounds around them. Additionally, wearing hearing aids helps the brain separate speech from other sounds more effectively. Lastly, worn together, two hearing aids can prevent auditory deprivation, a condition that occurs when a lack of sound stimulation from the unaided ear causes the brain to lose the ability to process sound information.
Are hearing aids covered by insurance?
While some insurance plans will cover part of the cost of hearing aids and other hearing devices, many do not.
How often should I repair and replace my hearing aid?
Hearing aids can function properly for a long period of time with regular maintenance. Since wax buildup and moisture can cause major problems for hearing devices, customers should have them cleaned and repaired by their audiologist several times a year. Hearing aids should be replaced after four to six years of use.