If you are experiencing hearing loss—loss of the ability to hear sounds—you’re not alone. This is a medical disorder that affects over 37 million adults in the United States.
- About 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 children in this country are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears.
- At least 1.4 million children under the age of 18 have hearing problems.
Impaired hearing or deafness is caused by damage to or loss of the hairs and nerve cells in the inner ear. This can be from:
- A congenital (present from birth) or hereditary (inherited) defect
- Head injury
- Viral or bacterial infections
- Certain medications
- Exposure to loud noise
- Presbycusis (age-related wear and tear): One in three adults over age 60 has hearing loss, and nearly half of people aged 75 to 85 have hearing loss
While most types of hearing loss can’t be reversed, it’s important to know that there are things you can do to improve the quality of your hearing or that of your child. And the Division of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at Cooper University Health Care can help.
Our ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists and audiologists provide expert diagnosis and treatment not only for adults with hearing loss but also for babies and children.
Why Choose Cooper to Treat Hearing Loss
As the only tertiary-care, academic health system in South Jersey, Cooper University Health Care’s Division of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery is home to a team of fellowship-trained otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat specialists) as well as experienced audiologists (professionals who diagnose and treat hearing and balance problems).
Together, they provide an unparalleled level of comprehensive medical and surgical care for the full range of issues relating to hearing loss in people of all ages, from infants to seniors.
Risk Factors for Hearing Loss
The major risk factors for hearing loss include:
- Aging: As we age, the inner ear structures degenerate
- Loud noise: Loud sounds, whether from long-term exposure or a short blast, can damage the cells of your inner ear
- Heredity: Inherited factors can make you more susceptible to inner-ear damage from noise or aging
- Occupational noise: When loud noise is a regular part of the work environment, such as in a factory or construction site, it can damage the inner ear
- Recreational noise: Firearm target practice, snowmobiling, or listening to loud music can cause permanent hearing loss
- Medications: Some drugs (including the antibiotic gentamicin and certain chemotherapy drugs) can damage the inner ear. Temporary ringing in the ear (tinnitus) or hearing loss can occur with high doses of aspirin and certain other drugs.
- Certain illnesses: Diseases that result in high fever, such as meningitis, may damage the cochlea, the part of the inner ear that produces nerve impulses in response to sound vibrations
Symptoms of Hearing Loss
The National Institutes of Health suggests asking yourself these questions to help determine if you have hearing loss:
- Do you have a problem hearing over the telephone?
- Do you have trouble following the conversation when 2 or more people are talking at the same time?
- Do people complain that you turn the TV volume up too high?
- Do you have to strain to understand conversation?
- Do you have trouble hearing in a noisy background?
- Do you find yourself asking people to repeat themselves?
- Do many people you talk to seem to mumble or not speak clearly?
- Do you misunderstand what others are saying and respond inappropriately?
- Do you have trouble understanding the speech of women and children?
- Do people get annoyed because you misunderstand what they say?
- Do you hear a ringing, roaring, or hissing sound a lot?
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, you may want to see an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat specialist), or an audiologist for a hearing evaluation.
How Hearing Loss Is Diagnosed
Common tests for diagnosing hearing loss include:
- Physical examination: Your doctor will look inside your ear for potential causes of your hearing loss, such as earwax, an infection or a structural issue.
- Initial screening test: Your doctor may ask you to cover one ear at a time to observe how well you hear words spoken at various volumes, as well as other sounds
- Tuning fork tests: A tuning fork is a two-pronged, metal instrument that produces a sound when it’s struck. Tests with tuning forks can help your doctor detect hearing loss and may also reveal what’s causing your hearing loss (damage to the vibrating parts of your middle ear, including your eardrum, or damage to nerves of your inner ear, or both).
- Audiometer testing: This is more advanced testing by an audiologist during which you wear earphones while sounds of various tones and at different levels are directed to one ear at a time. The audiologist will also present various words to determine your hearing ability.
- Automated auditory brainstem response (AABR): This screening test is performed on newborns; it measures how the hearing nerve responds to sound. Clicks or tones are played through soft earphones into the baby's ears.
How Hearing Loss Is Treated
Treatment depends on what is causing your (or your child’s) hearing loss, your (or your child’s age), and the degree of severity. In some people, hearing loss can be surgically corrected. For others, medical devices and rehabilitation therapies often can help reduce hearing loss. These options include:
- Removing ear wax: Earwax blockage is a reversible cause of hearing loss; your doctor removes earwax by loosening it with oil then suctioning or flushing the softened wax
- Surgery: Surgery may be indicated if there’s been a traumatic ear injury or repeated infections that require insertion of small tubes that help the ears drain
- Hearing aids: If hearing loss is due to inner ear damage, a hearing aid can help by amplifying sounds so they’re easier to hear. An audiologist can explain the benefits of a hearing aid, recommend a device, and fit you with it.
- Cochlear implants: If you or your child has severe hearing loss, a cochlear implant may be an option. A cochlear implant works by compensating for damaged or nonworking parts of the inner ear. A Cooper ENT specialist can explain the risks and benefits of cochlear implants to you.
To learn more about the services available in the Division of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery or to schedule an appointment, please call 856.342.3113.