Hearing loss is the loss of hearing in both ears and can be present since birth or develop later on in life. Sudden onset hearing loss is usually the loss of hearing in one ear only. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, 1 in 5 teens is suffering from hearing loss.
The lack of awareness and late diagnosis is seen with hearing loss, even of the most severe kind, can be linked to the fact that most patients themselves do not realize that they are suffering from it. Using contextual clues and lip-reading, a person suffering from hearing loss may compensate for it without even realizing it. Due to this, they may not realize the disease affecting them.
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Moreover, even physicians may miss this diagnosis in a general check-up. Since patients are compensating for hearing loss so well, a primary care physician may not even think that the patient is suffering from hearing loss
How to treat hearing loss?
Hearing loss in which the patient hears at diminished capacity can easily be treated with hearing aids. The aim of this therapeutic modality is to amplify the sounds the patient is hearing. But if the patients suffer from diminished hearing and decreased clarity of sound, hearing aids cannot be used as amplification alone is not useful.
For conditions like this, cochlear implants may be useful as they stimulate the auditory nerve directly, helping with the issues of decreased sound and comprehension.
But many physicians do not recommend the application of cochlear implants. There is a complete lack of awareness about their use and applications, which is in part responsible for the hesitation of physicians.
Why are cochlear implants not used more often?
A systematic review published in JAMA Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery Journal in August 2020 Dr. Buchman and colleagues talks about this issue exactly. According to this review, many associate cochlear implants with infantile hearing loss. Most of them believe that cochlear implants cannot be used for adolescents or adults who suffer from hearing loss.
However, the review classifies this as a major misconception and urges for increasing awareness about it. Dr. Buchman mentions that even individuals with difficulty talking on the phone are probable candidates for cochlear implants. Anyone suffering from mild to moderate hearing loss is a candidate for a cochlear implant.
The second misconception about cochlear implants is that implanting these requires an extremely invasive, surgical procedure with anesthesia. However, Dr. Buchman debunks that myth in this review. He states that it is a normal office procedure, and not as scary and invasive as it has been made to sound.
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Furthermore, Dr. Buchman and colleagues strongly recommend for more awareness programs to be initiated to make people realize the consequences of hearing loss and the benefit of a timely diagnosis with appropriate treatment. Researchers found hearing loss, which can be treated with simple cochlear implants, to be one of the major modifiable factors for the development of dementia. Dementia is a disease that can severely impact the quality of life of a person. Hence, using cochlear implants to treat this hearing loss may, in the long run, prove beneficial against the development of dementia.
How can physicians diagnose hearing loss?
As mentioned above, sometimes the individuals suffering from it don’t realize it. Then how can a physician diagnose them? Dr. Buchman, in his study, recommends that the physician while performing a physical exam turn their backs to the patient and wash their hands with running water. While doing so, the doctor must ask the patient questions. The sound of the running water and the turned back prevent the patient from reading the lips and can help the physician make a diagnosis.
For confirmation of the diagnosis, the patient can be referred to the otolaryngologists/audiologists.
Dr. Buchman and colleagues strongly suggest more education and awareness with regards to the use of cochlear implants be made as it can treat, not only hearing loss but also prevent other diseases in the future.