Can Hearing Loss Be Improved with Surgery?


If you have hearing loss in San Diego, you might be wondering whether surgery can provide a solution. The short answer is, probably not; for 90 percent of people with a hearing impairment, the condition is irreversible. But there are some instances in which a surgical procedure might provide some benefit.

The Odds Aren’t in Your Favor

surgeons walking into an operating room

Nine out of 10 people with hearing loss in California suffer from sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL), also known as nerve deafness. It’s the most common type of hearing loss in the U.S., affecting the inner ears. It can result from aging, noise exposure, trauma, disease, tumors and even certain drugs. There is no cure for SSHL; once the hair cells in the cochlea that send electrical impulses to the brain to be interpreted as sound experience damage, they cannot be repaired. Hearing aids are the go-to treatment for most people with SSHL.

In severe cases, a surgical procedure that bypasses the damaged portion of the inner ear can help. People with extreme hearing loss or profound deafness might be candidates for cochlear implants. Unlike hearing aids, which amplify sounds, cochlear implants offer direct stimulation of the auditory nerve. They contain an electronic device that is surgically implanted under the skin behind the ear; it is attached to electrodes that are placed in the cochlea. The external portion consists of a microphone that captures sound and a speech processor that converts it to a digital signal, which is then sent to the electrodes and processed as sound.

Not everybody is eligible for cochlear implant surgery. Candidates must meet strict criteria and be in good physical health. It’s reserved for those with severe hearing impairment who cannot be helped by traditional hearing aids.

Ten percent of patients with hearing loss in San Diego experience impairment to the outer or middle ear. This is known as conductive hearing loss and occurs when sound is unable to reach the inner ear due to a blockage of some type. Obstructions might involve earwax, infection, abnormal bone growth or a foreign object. Unlike SSHL, conductive hearing loss is often treatable with surgery.

Common surgical procedures for treating conductive hearing loss include:

  • PE tubes. Children with chronic ear infections might be recommended pressure equalization (PE) tubes to aid in ventilation and fluid drainage. These are surgically implanted in the ear canal and usually fall out on their own within six to 18 months.
  • Stapedectomy. Patients with a hardening of bone tissue in the middle ear (a condition known as otosclerosis) often undergo a surgical procedure called a stapedectomy. This involves either partial or total removal of the stapes bone that allows sound waves to be transmitted to the inner ear. This procedure is effective 90 percent of the time.

Unless your hearing loss falls under one of the above categories, it is unlikely that surgery will help. The majority of patients in San Diego experience significant improvements in their quality of life by wearing hearing aids. While they won’t “cure” your hearing impairment, they will make it easier for you to hear sounds and communicate with others. For more information, contact an audiologist in your area.

 

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