One in five people in Houston have hearing loss. This chronic condition is the third most common in the U.S.; only arthritis and heart disease rank higher. Many newly-diagnosed patients wonder whether there is a surgical procedure that can reverse their hearing disorder. The short answer is, probably not.
Types of Hearing Loss in Houston
Nine out of 10 patients who are diagnosed with hearing loss in Houston suffer damage to the inner ear. Known as sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) or nerve deafness, this type is irreversible. It can be caused by a variety of factors including aging, noise, trauma and disease. It occurs when the sensory hair cells of the cochlea become permanently damaged. Their job is to collect sound in the environment, convert it to electrical impulses and transmit it to the brain for interpretation.
Most patients with SSHL will benefit from hearing aids, but for those with profound hearing loss or deafness, the inner ear is too damaged for amplification to be effective. Those patients may be candidates for cochlear implants. Instead of boosting audio signals, cochlear implants bypass the damaged portions of the inner ear, providing direct stimulation to the auditory nerve.
Cochlear implants consist of an electronic device that is surgically implanted beneath the skin behind the ear and connected to a series of electrodes inserted in the cochlea, and an external portion that has a microphone to capture sound and a speech processor that converts it to electrical impulses—in essence, doing the job of the damaged hair cells. These signals are transmitted to the internal portion, where the electrodes process them as sound. Candidates for cochlear implants must meet very specific criteria due to the invasiveness of the surgery.
About 10 percent of hearing loss patients in Houston experience damage to the outer or middle ear. This is called conductive hearing loss and, unlike SSHL, can often be corrected with surgery. Causes of conductive hearing loss include excess earwax, infection, abnormal bone growth or a foreign object in the ear. Two common surgical procedures for patients with conductive hearing loss are:
Tympanostomy. This is the name of the surgical procedure used to insert ear tubes. Children with chronic ear infections may benefit from pressure equalization (PE) tubes, which provide ventilation and improve fluid drainage. The tubes usually fall out on their own within six to 18 months.
Stapedectomy. Those diagnosed with otosclerosis, a hardening of bone tissue in the middle ear, may find relief from a surgical procedure to remove the stapes bone; this improves transmission of sound to the inner ear. 90 percent of patients who opt for a stapedectomy report significant hearing improvement.
While the number of people who can actually benefit from surgery to improve hearing is small, that doesn’t mean those with irreversible hearing loss can’t enjoy a high quality of life. Hearing aids are an effective treatment option for most people, and improvements in digital technology have led to smaller, more comfortable devices with better sound quality. Contact a Houston hearing specialist for more information.