By Seilesh Babu, M.D., Michigan Ear Institute
Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting otology patients whether as a newborn or aging patient. Hearing loss can significantly impact one’s ability to communicate leading to reduced quality of life, isolation, and even depression. Seeking medical help to assist with this hearing loss can be the biggest obstacle for many patients who do not want to acknowledge a hearing issue. However, if the problem is properly managed with hearing aid assistance or surgical therapy, improvement in the patient’s quality of life including anxiety, depression, frustration, and social isolation will be positively impacted.
In our practice at the Michigan Ear Institute, we see thousands of patients annually with hearing loss concerns in all age groups. Some of unilateral hearing loss and many have bilateral hearing loss, ranging from mild to profound. Unilateral hearing loss can be caused by not having an ear canal form (canal atresia) or, from nerve damage of unknown etiology. These patients have several options to improve their hearing such as using CROS hearing aids, bone anchored devices, dental implanted devices, or surgical repair of the poorly formed ear canal in the case of atresia. Many patients have significant improvement in their hearing in various situations using these technologies and surgeries.
Recently, a patient of ours received a scholarship from Cochlear Americas, the global leader in implantable hearing solutions. This scholarship recognizes bone anchored device and cochlear implant recipients who have shown academic accomplishments as well as a commitment to leadership and humanity. Using the technology of hearing devices, patients are able to complete advanced academic pursuits despite having hearing impairment that may have proven to be an obstacle. We are proud to be a part of this successful path for this patient who is currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program.
Hearing technology continues to improve. Advances in hearing aids have occurred with smaller, more powerful processors and noise canceling technology, as well as masking technology that treats tinnitus or ringing in the ear. Middle ear implants provide a surgical treatment option for patients who do not want to wear conventional hearing aids. Cochlear implantation has revolutionized the ability to treat patients with complete hearing loss either as a newborn or for patients in their 80s.
Children born with complete deafness are able to be treated with a cochlear implant with near normal function from speech and language development to academic performance. Adults with late onset profound hearing loss are also able to obtain a cochlear implant in order to maintain excellent quality of life, independence, and social interactions. Some elderly patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease may in fact be suffering from severe hearing loss that needs to be diagnosed and managed.
In the future, advances in stem cell development and treatments will improve the quality of life of hearing loss sufferers. In addition to these new technologies, it is the collaborative effort of otologists, audiologists, and speech-language pathologists in treating patients with hearing loss that continues to have a positive impact in the lives of these patients every day.