Posted by: Duke Raleigh Hospital | April 20, 2012

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

New technology in hearing aids makes them barely noticeable…and sometimes invisible

By Dr. Cal Cunningham
Duke Otolaryngology of Raleigh

My adult patients generally come to me somewhat reluctantly. Their spouse, friends or other family members have noticed a problem with their hearing – and urged them to come see me.

I can understand their reticence. Hearings aids were – until just a few years ago – very conspicuous. Fortunately, that’s changed. Hearing devices these days are much improved in terms of the way they look and feel.

Today, they’re predominantly digital, they’re smaller and many of them are tucked behind the ear. No one but you has to know you’re wearing one.

Both partially and fully implantable devices are becoming more common, although they are still quite expensive. Cost is often the deciding factor in which type of device patients choose. Conventional hearing aids, because they’re relatively economical, are still a big part of my practice.

With the partially implantable device, we surgically place a small amplifier on one of the middle ear hearing bones, and a sound processor is implanted under the scalp behind the ear. Then, there’s a small sound receiver you wear behind your ear. The receiver collects sound and transfers it to the processor.

With a fully implantable device, the sound receiver is also implanted within the ear and. the patient does not have to wear any sort of device on the outside.

When a patient comes to me complaining of hearing loss, we first determine what’s causing the problem. There are two types of hearing loss: conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss.

Conductive hearing loss means there’s a problem getting sound into the inner ear. The causes are many and can be as easy to diagnose (and treat) such as wax build-up in the ear canal.

Sensorineural hearing loss happens when the hearing nerves start to degenerate. This can be due to aging, noise trauma experienced over many years and other factors.

If caught early enough, both types of hearing loss can be treated.

For my young patients, the causes of hearing loss are typically different than those I see in adults.

It may be a genetic problem that occurs at birth but doesn’t surface until later. Kids can also have impaired hearing from chronic ear infections. When that’s the reason, the loss is often reversible. Children aren’t likely to notice the symptoms of hearing loss, so parents have to be vigilant in watching for signs. Being disruptive in school, not paying attention or being fussy can all be signals that your child is having a hard time hearing.

Whether you or your child is experiencing symptoms of hearing loss, it’s best to see a doctor. There are simple tests and – these days – some pretty simple solutions. The big, clunky hearing aid is, thankfully, a relic of the past.


Find out more about Dr. Cunningham and Duke Otolaryngology of Raleigh!

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