The two main types of hearing loss that afflict people are conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss involves the prevention of sound reaching the inner ear due to an issue in the outer or middle ears. This issue may be as simple as earwax blockage or may be due to malformation of the tiny bones of the middle ear. This type of hearing loss is often treatable and in many cases, your hearing can be restored.
Sensorineural hearing loss, on the other hand, is hearing loss that is due usually to damage to the hair cells in the cochlea of the inner ear. This damage may be due to exposure to loud noise, certain medications, or aging.
Sensorineural hearing loss is by far the most common type of hearing loss and unfortunately is permanent; once certain hair cells in your inner ear are damaged, you lose the ability to hear certain frequencies. These hair cells do not regenerate. Because of this, there is currently no known cure for sensorineural hearing loss. But that doesn’t mean that there are no options for someone experiencing hearing loss.
How Hearing Loss is Treated
If you have issues hearing, there are quite a few options that can help you hear better. These treatment options depend on the type of your hearing loss and how serious it is. Treatment options include:
Removing blockages: earwax or other objects stuck in your ear can cause hearing loss that is reversible once the blockage is clear; many instances of conductive hearing loss are due to earwax impaction
Surgery: malformations of the outer or middle ears may cause hearing loss, and surgical procedures to correct the malformations can restore hearing. Hearing loss due to chronic ear infections can often be treated by inserting drain tubes into the ears
Hearing aids: hearing aids are one of the most common ways to treat sensorineural hearing loss; they boost the sounds of only the frequencies you’ve lost due to hair cell damage. For a more in-depth read, check out our "How Do Hearing Aids Work?" Article!
Cochlear implants: severe or profound hearing loss that can’t be treated with hearing aids can sometimes be treated with surgically implanted cochlear implants: these devices bypass the inner ear completely and send sound directly to the auditory nerve
Personal Sound Amplification Products
The Over the Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 means that soon FDA-regulated hearing aids will be available for purchase without a prescription. The OTC hearing aids are likely to be available within the next few years. These new hearing aids will most likely combine aspects of traditional hearing aids and personal sound amplification products (PSAPs), which are readily available.
Although not considered hearing aids, not regulated by the FDA, and not recommended for individuals suffering from hearing loss, studies have shown that PSAPs may perform as well as prescribed hearing aids for people who suffer from mild to moderate hearing loss.
New Therapies On the Horizon for Treating Hearing Loss
The way we treat hearing loss may change over the next few decades. Research is currently underway all over the world to develop new treatments to treat hearing loss that don’t involve hearing aids or cochlear implants. A number of chemotherapies, therapeutics, and gene therapies are being explored that may be able to regenerate hair cells in the inner and restore hearing to those who have lost it due to noise, aging, or other reasons.
Scientists' understanding of the actual mechanisms that lead to hearing loss has dramatically increased in recent years; for instance, we have learned that many birds and reptiles have the ability to regrow damaged hair cells in their ears, thus restoring their hearing. Scientists are using knowledge like this to attempt to develop therapies or drugs that could restore hearing in humans.
Prevent Hearing Loss
The best way currently to approach hearing loss is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Whether you hear great or suffer from some hearing loss, there are always measures you can take to protect your hearing right now:
Avoid loud sounds: noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common ways that people lose their hearing. It happens anytime your ears are exposed to sound above 85 decibels; the longer the exposure, the worse the damage. At certain levels of noise, irreparable damage can happen in as little as eight minutes. In the case of very loud noises, such as explosions, the damage is immediate.
Listen to your music with care: listening to loud music through earbuds can be very dangerous to your hearing. Because the music is so close to your eardrums and there is a tendency to turn up the volume to block out background noise. It’s better to use headphone or noise-cancelling earphones. Turn the volume up to a level where you can still hold a conversation, and limit the amount of the time you use them, taking frequent breaks.
Take care of you hearing at loud events or venues such as concerts, clubs, parties, or sporting events that often exceed a safe volume level. Try to stay away from sources of noise such as loudspeakers, take a break from the noise every 15 minutes, and consider wearing earplugs to protect your hearing.
Be safe at work: many workplaces are sources of dangerous noise levels. If yours is one of them, talk to your human resources department or manager to find out what their OSHA-mandated Hearing Conservation Plan is and follow it. Try to use quieter equipment if you can, take frequent breaks from noisy areas, and always use provided hearing protection, such as ear muffs or earplugs.
Get tested: if you think you might be experiencing hearing loss, get your hearing tested as soon as possible so you can stay proactive about treating and minimizing further loss. Consider getting regular hearing check-ups if you are exposed regularly to noisy environments.
The information in this guide has been written using the following reliable sources: