Hearing Loss: why does it happen?
Hearing loss is defined as partial or
total inability to hear sound in one or both ears. It is
always a frustrating condition often associated with
aging, although many other factors can cause it.
In general terms, there are two main types of
hearing loss, depending on which part of the ear is
affected: 1) conductive hearing loss, due to defective
sound conduction through the external ear (ear canal)
and/or the middle ear (eardrum and auditory ossicles);
2) sensory-neural hearing loss, due to a damage to the
inner ear (containing the hearing sensory cells) or the
Conductive hearing loss is usually caused by
external or middle ear infection, eardrum perforation,
earwax blockage or presence of a foreign body in the
ear, while sensory-neural hearing loss (which is always
a permanent loss) may be the result of many various
conditions, including genetic syndromes, birth injury,
certain medications, tumors, head trauma, aging and
prolonged exposure to loud noises.
Hearing Loss: reduced perception of sounds
Regardless of the type of hearing loss, symptoms
always include a reduced perception of sounds, the
inability to hear faint sounds and sometimes a reduced
speech understanding. These symptoms often result in
decreased quality of life, which in turn can lead to
anxiety and/or depression.
Fortunately hearing loss is a potentially
treatable (and sometimes curable) condition. When
hearing loss is caused by ear infection, earwax blockage
or presence or foreign bodies in the ear, the removal of
the cause is usually enough to restore hearing ability.
In these cases, therefore, the condition is reversible.
On the contrary, hearing loss caused by a damage
to the inner ear is always permanent and irreversible
and can be treated only with the use of hearing aids or,
in the most severe cases, cochlear implants. Hearing
aids are small electronic devices (to wear in or behind
the ear) that amplify sounds and direct them into the
ear canal, thereby making sounds louder and allowing the
patient to hear more and easier.
However, when hearing loss is particularly
severe, hearing aids are not enough and cochlear
implants can be considered. Cochlear implants are
complex electronic devices that replace the function of
the damaged sensory cells in the inner ear, by directly
stimulating the acoustic nerve. Cochlear implants never
restore normal hear function; however they can help
provide a sense of sound to patients with profoundly
Due to the cost of hearing loss treatment, which
can place a great financial burden on patients and/or
their families, it is advisable that people with this
condition are covered by appropriate health insurance.