Hearing loss affects 1 in every 6 Australians and this number is expected to reach 1 in 4 over the next 50 years. Given these astonishing figures, it is important to consider what we can do to treat hearing loss. Hearing loss may not always be reversible, but are there any medications or surgical interventions that can help to restore your hearing?
Modern medicine is able to transplant a heart, so surely the medical world has answers to help those with hearing loss? Let’s review some of the most common issues leading to hearing loss and their medical solutions.
Believe it or not, one of the most common fixes for hearing loss is often the removal of ear wax. If there is a large amount of wax blocking your ear canal, that itself can cause hearing loss. If your GP or audiologist has informed you that your ears are full of wax, you can try some over the counter remedies to help get that wax moving.
Wax drops containing hydrogen peroxide or natural oils such as squalene, mineral oil, spearmint oil, have been proven to be beneficial in the removal and dissolving of wax. As a general rule, check the instructions on the box for the administration of the ear drops.
Administering the drops for three to five days may help soften the wax and clear the ear canal. If the ear remains blocked and the hearing loss is still present, removal of wax by a GP is advised.
Antibiotic ear drops can be used to help clear an out ear infection that is caused by inflammation of the ear canal itself. If the inflammation and infection are significant, the ear canal can become blocked and hearing loss may be a key symptom of the infection.
The use of antibiotic or steroid drops can be effective in the treatment of the infection, reducing inflammation and reversing hearing loss. One type of outer ear canal infection is known as “swimmer’s ear” caused by swimming in some people.
Infection of the outer ear canal
How to administer ear drops:
The use of antihistamines, nasal sprays and decongestants which are saltwater (saline) or steroid-based, can help equalise the pressure in the middle ear via the eustachian tube. The eustachian tube connects the ear and the sinus.
If it has problems opening and closing or is blocked, it can give a feeling of fullness in the ear due to pressure build-up. This may cause a temporary hearing loss. The use of nasal sprays can allow the eustachian tube to open and close freely, alleviating hearing loss and equalising pressure in the ear.
Eustachian tube dysfunction
Infections of the middle ear, also known as otitis media, are known to cause hearing loss, especially in children. The hearing loss appears when there is a fluid build-up and infection behind the eardrum, it does not resolve on its own. When this happens, the sound can no longer get from the outer ear to the inner ear. This causes hearing loss and sounds appear muffled. It almost sounds like your head is underwater.
Middle ear infection diagram
What can be done to remove the fluid?
The use of oral antibiotics such as Amoxycillin (prescribed by your GP), can help clear the infection and move the fluid, reducing the hearing loss. If the fluid sticks, it’s commonly called a “glue ear”. It requires the middle ear to be drained to remove the fluid and eliminate the hearing loss.
This occurs when an ENT surgically inserts a ‘grommet’ (small ventilation tube) into the eardrum to allow airflow into the middle ear and resulting in drainage of fluid. Hearing loss caused by the presence of middle ear fluid is immediately resolved by surgery and sounds are free to reach the inner ear (cochlea), results can be immediate.
Grommet in the eardrum
The surgical procedure of grommets is not permanent with either short term grommets (lasting 6-12 months) or long term grommets (which can last longer). The eardrum will naturally push the grommet out into the ear canal, closing the hole made by the grommet on its own. It is rare for a grommet to cause any hearing loss on its own accord.
The term ‘cochlear implant’ is probably a term you’ve heard of as the ‘bionic ear’. But what does it mean and can it help if you have a hearing loss? There is a gamut of things to consider when your audiologist is checking if a Cochlear implant would be right for you.
As a general understanding, it is used for people who have severe to profound hearing loss in an ear. A person is considered when the use of hearing aid provides no or little benefit to their ability to hear and communicate in daily life. The hearing loss needs to originate from the inner ear (cochlea) and be permanent and stable (sensorineural hearing loss).
Sensorineural hearing loss
A common misconception is that the cochlear implant is invisible, and no one can see it! This is not the case, as the cochlear implant is made of 2 parts:
When surgically inserted the cochlear implant replaces the function of the hearing organ in the inner ear and converts the sounds we hear naturally into electrical signals. This gives the brain new hearing information as the damaged inner ear is bypassed and the hearing nerve is given precise electrical signals to send to the brain. Over time, this improves the hearing and reduces the hearing loss that was once present in that ear.
Whilst the innovation of this wonderful implant is revolutionary to those with hearing loss, it is not a quick fix. Unlike getting a grommet, the ability to hear is not instant. You may have seen vivid videos online of babies or young children at their first ‘switch on’ where they hear sounds for the first time three to four weeks after they have been implanted.
This is what really happens: The child has heard a sound, but the brain then needs to work hard to map and learn what these sounds mean and where these sounds belong in our world. This is a process known as ‘hearing rehabilitation’.
This process is a long term commitment and ensures the best outcomes from the implant. If you are considering a Cochlear implant, make sure you are ready to do some hearing homework and teach your brain how to interpret the new sounds it is hearing!
In the end, we see hearing loss taking on many shapes and forms. There is no one magical solution or medication that heals all things related to our hearing. Understanding where the hearing loss is coming from will determine how it is managed and whether surgery is required.
Consulting with your trusted local audiologist will ensure that you are put on the right path. You never know, your hearing issues could simply be caused by a bit of wax, or something more.
If you’d like to schedule a hearing test or want to discuss your options with an experienced hearing healthcare professional, don’t hesitate to contact the friendly team at Attune Hearing.
Give us a call at 1300 736 702 or book your appointment online!