Is It Possible to Reverse Hearing Loss?

“One of the most common questions I get asked,” said Vibe Hearing audiologist Annie Duchen, Au.D, CCC-A in a recent interview, “is whether or not hearing loss is reversible.”

Like many questions about health issues, it can be hard to give an exact answer to this question. 

Hearing is a complex process that can be affected by a variety of different things and individual health situations can vary wildly.

The short answer is this:

There are some situations and types of hearing loss that are reversible but, unfortunately, the most common type of hearing loss is not.

Let’s talk about the different types of hearing loss, whether or not they can be reversed, and give you some ways to protect your hearing from damage (or further damage).

Which Types of Hearing Loss Can Be Reversed?

There are two primary categories of hearing loss, conductive and sensorineural. 

Conductive hearing loss is related to issues with sound passing through the outer and middle ear while sensorineural hearing loss relates to issues with the inner ear.

It’s easiest to think of conductive hearing loss as a blockage of sorts. If you have a build up of ear wax or fluid from an infection, then the sound cannot pass through normally. If you remove the obstruction, then hearing usually returns. This is because there’s not an underlying issue or damage to the hearing process. 

Sensorineural hearing loss, meanwhile, is more common and is not reversible. This is because sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the tiny hair cells lining the inner ear (called cilia). Once damaged by  exposure to persistent loud sounds or the aging process, they do not regrow.

There are two other causes of hearing loss that sometimes can be reversible. If, for instance, a person is on a medication that is damaging to hearing (ototoxic) such as chemo, once the person stops that medication they may be able to regain some or all of their hearing but it largely depends.

One specific type of sensorineural hearing loss, known as SSHL (Sudden sensorineural hearing loss) may be able to be reversed. SSHL is hearing loss of at least 30 decibels that occurs within a very short period of time. 

For instance, if someone wakes up and is completely unable to hear out of one ear for no discernable reason, this would be considered SSHL. Depending on the situation, those who receive treatment from an ENT in a timely manner may be able to recover some of their hearing loss.

Treatment Options for Hearing Loss

If you have noticed your hearing is not as good as it used to be, the best course of action is to visit an audiologist and get treatment as soon as possible.

The treatment for conductive hearing loss varies depending on the type of obstruction. For example, if the hearing loss is caused by an ear infection, you may be prescribed antifungals or antibiotics to fight off the cause of the infection. If it is obstructed by earwax or a mass of some sort, once it is removed, your hearing will usually return to what it was before.

For sensorineural hearing loss, the most common treatment for mild to moderate hearing loss is usually a hearing device of some sort to help compensate for the reduced ability to hear. 

There are treatments to support communication, but in many cases of hearing loss, there is no surgery, medication, or anything to fix the hearing loss. There is just treatment to support access to sound through technology.

“The sooner an adult with hearing loss uses technology like hearing aids, the better the potential outcome and quality of life” Said Dr. Duchen. “The younger you are, the more “plastic” your brain meaning its able to adapt better to the technology”

Hearing aids sometimes need some manipulation to adjust and at first, the sound may not be quite what you’re used to. This is because the brain is not yet used to that kind of sound.  

After you’ve worn them for a while, your brain gets used to the way the devices sound.

Be Proactive with Protecting Your Hearing

If you have started to notice that your hearing isn’t as good as it used to be or have been diagnosed with hearing loss, getting treatment is the best, first step.

After that, it’s important to do what you can to protect your hearing.

That means:

  • Wearing hearing protection at concerts or other loud environments
  • If a sound makes your ears hurt, get away from the sound
  • Keep the volume on any devices as low as you can while still hearing

You should seek medical attention immediately if you’re currently experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Chronic ear pain
  • SSHL (hearing loss that comes up out of nowhere)
  • Hearing loss in only one ear
  • Some sort of matter or fluid coming out of the ear
  • Dizziness

If you suspect that you may have hearing loss, the most important thing you can do is schedule an appointment with a certified audiologist or check your hearing here for free.

 

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