Hearing loss and hearing aids: everything you were afraid to ask
Although there really aren’t any stupid questions when it comes to medical matters, Healthy Hearing realizes there may be things you’ve always wondered about your hearing health but were afraid to ask. That’s why we’re taking this opportunity on September 28 -- nationally recognized as “ask a stupid question day” -- to answer five common questions about hearing loss.
If my hearing loss keeps getting worse, will I eventually go deaf?
Medical professionals say “probably not,” especially if your hearing loss has been diagnosed as sensorineural. While this type of hearing loss is typically progressive and can get worse over time, most cases will hit a plateau where hearing thresholds will remain mostly steady.
Only a hearing evaluation by a qualified hearing care professional can determine what type of hearing loss you have and how severe it is. It’s also important to know that, much like an unused muscle, your auditory system can atrophy. Although your brain naturally shrinks with age, research by scientists at John Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging found the process was fast tracked in older adults with untreated hearing loss, especially in the areas related to sound and speech. That means that if your hearing healthcare professional recommends hearing aids to treat your loss, start wearing them as soon as possible.
Do I need to learn sign language if I have hearing loss?
The short answer to this question is “no,” but that depends on the severity of your hearing loss and the quality of communication you want to have in the future. Be honest with your hearing healthcare professional. Tell them about your daily listening environments and which sounds are most important to you. Depending on the severity of your hearing loss, you may be able to improve your hearing and communicate well by wearing hearing aids or using assistive listening devices.
But please don't dismiss learning sign language so quickly. In addition to hand and finger gestures, signers use facial expressions and body language to talk. Sign language is a beautiful, interactive way to communicate, regardless of whether or not you can hear. If you’ve always wanted to study another language, put sign language on your short list.
Do I really need two hearing aids?
If you’ve had your hearing evaluated by a qualified hearing professional and they have recommended two hearing aids as treatment, then the answer is “yes.” Here’s why:
- Your brain depends on both ears to determine where sounds are coming from (localization). Since most hearing loss involves both ears (bilateral), wearing two hearing aids gives your brain the information it needs so you won’t have to strain so hard to hear. That leaves you more energy to enjoy life.
- Believe it or not, your left and right ears were not created equal. According to research conducted by scientists at UCLA and the University of Arizona, the left side is more sensitive to music and singing, while the right ear is partial to the spoken word. Amplifying both ears helps you enjoy all of the noisy nuances of the world around you.
Can I skip hearing aids and just get a cochlear implant?
That depends. If your hearing loss is so severe that hearing aids can’t correct the loss, then you might be a candidate for a cochlear implant -- but they aren’t a solution for everyone. Implanting a cochlear device is an invasive surgical procedure that involves cutting through bones of the skull and inserting an array of electrodes inside the tiny inner ear organ called the cochlea.
Implants are most commonly performed in children born without hearing. Adults who have already tried hearing aids and do not get benefit from wearing them or those who essentially have no hearing left can also be candidates.
The good news? Hearing aids don’t require surgery and for those with mild, moderate and even severe to profound losses, it’s still the best treatment available - no surgery required!
Are there any natural remedies for hearing loss?
Unfortunately, despite what you might read on the internet or social media, the answer is “no.” That’s because the delicate hair cells of the inner ear which are responsible for translating the noise your outer ears collect into electrical impulses for the brain to interpret, do not regenerate. Once they have been damaged -- from exposure to excessive noise, illness or ototoxic medications -- you lose the ability to hear permanently. While some promising advances have been made, science is still many years, if not decades, away from a way to regenerate hair cells.
In the meantime:
- Protect your hearing from excessive noise louder than 85 decibels, such as concerts, fireworks and other explosions, outdoor lawn equipment, and loud power tools. Wear protective hearing gear whenever you know you’ll be in a noisy situation. Turn down the volume on personal electronic devices, the television and car radio.
- Don’t put anything into your ear canal that might puncture your eardrum. For the most part, ears are self-cleaning and only require gentle washing with a warm, soapy cloth. Ask a medical professional for help if sound is muffled and you think there is an obstruction in your ear canal.
- Develop a relationship with a trusted hearing healthcare professional like one in our directory of consumer-reviewed clinics. They can answer questions about your hearing loss and customize a plan to keep you hearing your best.