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Hearing problems: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About hearing problems

Hearing problems mostly refer to loss in hearing which is defined as an inability to hear sound. This results from affliction of the ear, which is an organ of hearing and maintaining equilibrium. Normal hearing occurs when sound enters the ear which vibrates the ear drum and gets transmitted to three small bones in the middle ear. These vibrations are subsequently transmitted to the inner ear, moving the fluid, thus helping the tiny hair cells to detect movement and send to the brain to be interpreted as sound.

Hearing problems: Incidence, age and sex

Hearing problems can be seen in children as well as adults. It is physiologically more common in older adults due to aging.

Signs and symptoms of hearing problems: Diagnosis

Hearing problems include both hearing loss and very rarely hearing inappropriately loud sounds. The signs and symptoms of hearing problems may be evident when the affected individual frequently asks for repeating spoken statements or always turns up the television volume or find it difficult to carry a conversation on phone. Sometimes, the affected individual also speaks in an inappropriately loud voice. Hearing loss is in most cases gradual in onset. It can be either ‘conductive’ or ‘sensori-neural’ type of hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss results in disruption in the conduction of sound between external and middle ear. This usually affects one ear and is reversible in most of the conditions. Sensori-neural hearing loss results from damage to the inner ear or the auditory nerve. Auditory nerve is responsible for transmitting nerve impulses between the brain and inner ear. The hearing problem may be associated with other symptoms (like ear discharge, ear pain and ringing in the ears), depending upon the underlying ailment.

Certain investigations like audiometer test, bone conduction hearing test, tympanometry and acoustic reflex test may be considered to evaluate the underlying aetiology of hearing problem.

Causes and prevention of hearing problems

Several causes of hearing problems have been documented. Some of them are as follows:

  • Age related changes in elderly (Presbycusis)
  • Occupation (exposure to constant loud noise)
  • Traumatic causes (skull fracture, explosions, gunfire, barotrauma)
  • Ear infections
  • Ear wax
  • Perforation of ear drum
  • Tumour of auditory nerve
  • Childhood infections (measles, mumps)
  • Congenital infections (rubella, toxoplasmosis, herpes)

Hearing problems: Complications

The complications of hearing loss usually arise from underlying ailments. Hearing loss in itself may hamper an individual’s work and social life in adults. On the other hand, it may lead to difficulties in speech and language in small children.

Hearing problems: Treatment

The treatment of hearing loss depends upon the ear ailment it has occurred due to. Hearing loss due to ear infections may improve with antibiotic medications. Wax softeners like medicated ear drops or glycerine may be used in cases of hard wax obstructing the ear canal. Irrigation of ears with warm water may also help in removing ear wax and improving hearing. Irreversible and permanent hearing loss may require hearing aids which help in amplifying sound. Other modalities like speech therapy especially in small children or lip reading may also benefit.