Almost anyone who is experiencing difficulty with communication due to hear loss is a candidate for hear instruments. There are some hear losses that can be medically treated without a need for amplication (hear aids). However, that is typically the exception and not the rule. The good news is there are usually warning signs that there is a possible hear loss.
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you may have a hear loss and should have your hear evaluated by a hear professional. It is recommended that everyone have his or her hear tested annually.
Yes, with a hear loss, it is difficult to understand speech. What is not sufficiently appreciated is that a patient's emotional and mental state may also be affected by the disrupted communication patterns caused by hear loss. A patient with hear loss is four times as likely to manifest psychological disturbances than a person with normal hear. There is also evidence that hear loss can exacerbate the behavioral picture of patients with Alzheimer's and other cognitive disorders.
Ringing (tinnitus is the technical term) in the absence of stimulating sound from outside the ear can be caused by many things, from fatigue to certain doses of medications such as aspirin. It is believed that the ringing is due to spontaneous activity in the cochlea. The most common cause of tinnitus is hear loss, and in particular sensorineural hear loss. This is probably because patients with sensorineural hear loss have some damage in the cochlea that is causing the hear loss. It is these damaged sections that are presumed to be producing the spontaneous activity that leads a patient to hear sounds in their ear.
Sound is vibration that travels through a medium, typically the air. When these vibrations reach the outer ear, this is the beginning of hear. The ear has four main parts that sound must travel through for you to hear: the outer ear, the middle ear, the inner ear, and beyond the inner ear that includes the VIIIth nerve and the brain.
There are three types of hear loss:
If you have a hear loss that is caused by a medically treatment problem, the problem could obviously get worse over time without treatment. If the hear loss is due to a condition such as a lesion or tumor in the auditory system, this could be potentially life threatening.
Whether the condition is medically treatable such as most conductive losses, or due to damage such as noise exposure or age, the result in the brain is the same, it does not get stimulated. This is called auditory deprivation. The brain is not getting stimulated by sound or is getting distorted versions of the sound due to the damage in the auditory system.
There have been many studies done on auditory deprivation to determine the long term effects on the brain. These studies suggest that if the brain is not stimulated, the potential to "forget" how to hear is great and is closely related to the length of time that brain goes without stimulation. The longer the patient goes without treatment (including amplification if that is warranted) the more likely it is the brain will forget how to hear and understand speech even after treatment is implemented. These findings suggest that it is important to seek appropriate treatment in a timely manner for hear loss if the brain maintain its ability to understand speech.
The progression of hear loss in most cases is a subtle one from a small amount of hear loss to greater and greater loss. The implication vary depending on the degree of hear loss.