Hearing loss is something that we all might encounter at some point in our lives, and it can lead to feelings of worry and frustration if left untreated. Hearing loss can have a negative impact on your own life and that of your family and friends. Can hearing aids reverse the effects of hearing loss?
Whilst there have been many advances in medicine over time, unfortunately as of yet, there is no cure for hearing loss. Hearing loss isn’t reversible, and some types are certainly preventable, it’s hard to recover what is already lost. However, there is good news: Modern hearing aids are a great option for many people and can keep you hearing the sounds of everyday life – no matter how mild or severe your hearing loss may be.
Hearing loss can be caused by damage to the cochlea through normal wear and tear, exposure to significant loud noise, ototoxic medication, infections, perforated eardrums, physical trauma and otosclerosis.
This can reduce the amount of sound that reaches your brain. As a result, you are less aware of certain frequencies. Sensorineural hearing loss causes the hearing organ, the cochlear, to be less sensitive to different pitches as well as less able to hear gaps in-between sounds.
These issues can distort sounds and create difficulties discriminating between different sounds. Difficulties are often most evident in background noise as multiple noises influence each other. For example, if a person with hearing loss is trying to listen to their friend from across the table, the environmental noise will obscure what their friend is saying.
Although people with normal hearing will often have some difficulties in this type of situation, a person with hearing loss will have even more difficulties. The difficulties associated with sensorineural hearing loss have an impact on how hearing aids will need to be set up and how much you may benefit from the hearing aids.
Unless the hearing loss comes on suddenly, in which case you should see your GP and audiologist, you might not notice the deterioration of your hearing for some time. It is far more likely that your family and friends will start to pick it up first, maybe the TV volume is creeping higher up, maybe you don’t react when they ask a question. If this happens, it is a good idea to get your hearing checked to determine if you indeed need hearing assistance.
Hearing loss, if left untreated, can cause you to pull back from social situations and avoid interactions with others. This can increase the risk of early-onset Alzheimer’s, following the old saying of “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it”.
A comprehensive hearing test is required to determine if you will benefit from hearing aids. Testing will also exclude medical reasons for hearing loss which may be treated. The hearing test will determine hearing thresholds, which are the softest sounds you can hear at different pitches.
If you have hearing loss, you won’t be able to hear sounds that are at a softer level than your hearing thresholds. Speech testing should be completed during the assessment to determine the effect of hearing loss on your ability to discriminate speech sounds.
A hearing aid is a small digital electronic device worn either behind or inside your ear. It aims to make some sounds louder so that they are easier to hear. This allows the wearer to listen, communicate and be more actively involved in daily activities whether it is a quiet or noisy situation.
Hearing aids collect sounds through a microphone, process and amplify sounds where needed. The processed sounds are then relayed into the ear. As with purchasing any goods, there are many different brands or manufacturers of hearing aids. Hearing aids are programmed using specialist software developed by the hearing aid manufacturer.
The primary function of hearing aids is to assist in improving speech perception and understanding of those with a hearing loss, however, the benefits of the devices can extend far beyond just being able to hear speech easier. People that find they can hear conversations ok, but miss other sounds – like the doorbell chiming, car indicator clicking, or even their phone ringing, could benefit from wearing hearing aids, too.
There are three main styles of hearing aids available on the market:
However, the smallest possible size of your hearing aid is determined by how severe the hearing loss is. A larger degree of hearing loss may require a more powerful receiver and amplifier so the device will have to increase in size to accommodate the electronics. Your audiologist should discuss all possible options with you, taking into consideration your needs and lifestyle.
Do you still remember your grandparents’ big, bulky aids? They would always whistle and yet, your grandparents would still ask everyone to repeat things. Since the early 2000s, devices started to become much smaller and settings were more customisable to suit different hearing losses.
Today’s devices are nothing short of amazing and the technology available to consumers is rapidly changing. Most hearing aids are now ‘automatic’ – meaning they can analyse the situation you are in and adjust their settings to give you the best chance of hearing with less effort and strain.
Entry-level devices may only be able to tell the difference between quiet and noise, but top-end aids will have you covered across many more situations including conversations in the car, loud noise, echo and outdoors in windy weather.
Many hearing aids now also have Bluetooth streaming features. This makes it even easier to stay connected with family and friends via your phone or video chat. It is really important to have that detailed conversation with your audiologist on the places where you need help to hear better.
If you choose to go ahead with the fitting of hearing aids, your audiologist will help you select and set up your devices. During the first appointment, you can expect the audiologist to run some tests with and without the hearing aids to make sure the volume isn’t too loud for your level of hearing loss. The appointment takes up to an hour to ensure the correct amount of amplification is provided to you.
The audiologist will then run you through the settings to make sure you’re comfortable using the aid. Once the hearing aids are set up appropriately, you need to be able to operate the hearing aids on your own. If the hearing aids are not placed correctly, you won’t receive a clear sound. You should also be able to make basic checks to ensure the battery is functioning and there is no fault with the hearing aids which can occur with moisture or wax.
Please note that it may take time to get used to the sound of the hearing aids. When you leave the appointment, you will most likely notice a lot of sounds that you haven’t been aware of for some time. They may seem super loud at first – this is normal as your brain has to adjust to hearing everything louder than it is used to. If the sounds are uncomfortable, let the audiologist know. They can always make adjustments.
In short, the answer as to whether hearing aids can restore your hearing loss to normal is no. However, they most definitely improve your hearing and communication ability in daily life, in conjunction with using good communication strategies.
Most hearing aid users do report benefit from their devices. If you are open to discussing your hearing concerns with your audiologist, you can work together to find an appropriate solution for your individual needs. Even if the result is not necessarily a hearing aid.
It is important to book a comprehensive hearing test to ensure the type and severity of your hearing loss are accurately determined. This assessment will also identify if hearing aids are the appropriate solution for you.