Hearing Loss Treatment

Several federal, national, state, and local agencies and organizations develop and implement early detection and intervention programs for people with hearing loss. To insure proper development, early intervention is crucial in children who have a hearing impairment. It is recommended that all infants are screened for hearing loss by 1 month of age, undergo follow-up testing by 3 months of age, and receive interventional services by the age of 6 months.

Treatment for hearing loss depends on the cause, type, and severity of the condition. Treatment may involve medical intervention (e.g., medications), hearing aids, and surgery. Temporary hearing loss usually improves once the underlying condition (e.g., ear infection, build up of ear wax in the ear canal) is resolved.

Medical Treatment for Hearing Loss

Treatment for ear infections may involve over-the-counter pain relievers (e.g., acetaminophen) and antibiotics (e.g., amoxicillin). According to current guidelines, antibiotics should be used to treat ear infections in children who are younger than 2 years of age. However, in children who are older than age 2, parents and physicians may choose to avoid using antibiotics if the infection is mild.

In many cases, ear infections resolve without antibiotics and without resulting in serious complications. Careful use of antibiotics can help reduce the risk for drug-resistant bacteria (e.g., MRSA). If antibiotics are prescribed, it is important to take the medication as directed and finish the entire course (usually 5 to 10 days).

Side effects of antibiotics include nausea and diarrhea. Severe side effects (e.g., rash, difficulty breathing) may indicate an allergic reaction and should be reported to a physician immediately.

The build up of ear wax in the ear canal is another common cause for temporary hearing loss. Ear wax helps protect the ears by trapping foreign particles (e.g., dust, dirt, microorganisms) and preventing them from entering the inner ear, but if too much wax is produced, it may block the ear canal and cause hearing loss and other symptoms (e.g., ringing or buzzing in the ear [tinnitus], ear pain, sensation that the ear is plugged).

In some cases, ear blockages can be treated by placing a few drops of mineral or baby oil, glycerin, or commercial ear drops into the ear to help soften the wax. Once it has been softened, a bulb syringe can be used to gently instill warm water into the ear canal and allow the excess wax to drain from the ear. This process is called irrigation.

Irrigation should not be used if there is a chance that the ear drum is perforated (ruptured). If attempts to remove excess ear wax at home are unsuccessful, a physician should be consulted. Physicians may remove the wax by suctioning the ear canal or using a small device called a curette.

Hearing Aids

Hearing aids can help improve hearing in as many as 95 percent of people with hearing loss. Hearing aid devices usually consist of a microphone to gather sound waves, an amplifier to make sounds louder, an earpiece to deliver the sounds to the ear, and a battery to supply power.

Hearing aids differ in size, design, and degree of amplification. Some types are worn behind the ear, some fit into the outer ear, some are worn in the ear canal, and some are worn in a special case outside of the body.

Hearing aids may also be equipped with an instrument called a telecoil, which is used along with compatible telephones and other assistive listening devices (ALDs). ALDs are used to enhance hearing by amplifying sound, minimizing background noises, and overriding poor acoustics. In addition to telephones, they also can be used with televisions, at the movies, during conferences, etc.

Other devices that can be used in combination with hearing aids include alerting devices (e.g., smoke detectors, doorbells, alarm clocks). These devices often produce visual signals.

Surgery & Hearing Loss

In some cases, severe hearing loss may be treated using an electronic device called a cochlear implant. Cochlear implants compensate for inner ear damage. They do not restore normal hearing, but they can provide a useful representation of sound to people with severe hearing loss or deafness.

Approximately half of all cochlear implant recipients are children. Most children who receive the implant are between the ages of 2 and 6. Audiologists and physicians (e.g., ear, nose, and throat specialists [ENTs], cochlear-implant surgeons) can explain the risks and benefits of cochlear implants and determine which patients are good candidates for the procedure.

Cochlear implants consist of an external part that sits behind the ear and an internal part that is surgically implanted. The device includes a microphone to gather sound waves, a speech processor to arrange sounds, a transmitter and receiver to convert signals from the processor to electric impulses, and an electrode array to collect impulses and send them to different areas of the auditory nerve.

Following cochlear implantation, significant post-surgical therapy is necessary. This therapy often involves audiologists and speech-language pathologists. In young children with severe hearing impairments, cochlear implants can improve speech, language, development, and social skills.

Ongoing studies are being conducted to evaluate people who have received cochlear implants. Additional research areas involve using the implants to treat other types of hearing loss, improving the devices, and combining a cochlear implant in one ear with a hearing aid in the other.

The decision to undergo cochlear implantation is a personal one. In some cases, people who have severely impaired hearing choose not to have the procedure, even if they are considered to be good candidates. There are a number of different reasons for this decision.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 18 Sep 2015