As we enter a new decade, let’s look back at how our ability to treat hearing loss has changed. Traditionally, the extremes of hearing loss have been the most difficult to treat. Individuals with milder hearing loss often find hearing aids not to be worth the hassle – most find the plugging of the ears with the hearing aid mold to be very bothersome. At the other extreme, individuals with severe hearing loss often complain that their hearing aids do not restore the clarity that they so miss. Fortunately, new solutions are available for both of these situations.
The treatment of mild-to-moderate hearing loss has been revolutionized by a class of hearing aids called open-fit or open-mold hearing aids. Advances in digital technology have let us get rid of the problematic hearing aid mold which plug the ear and now can leave the ear canal wide open. This allows us to preserve the natural hearing, but provide a “boost” only where needed. The result is superior sound quality without the annoying tunnel-like sound of traditional devices. These aids are very comfortable, practically invisible, and available from most of the major hearing device manufacturers. So if you have hearing aids that mostly sit in the dresser drawer, odds are that these newer devices would help you.
On the other hand, if you have strong hearing aids that just do not give enough volume or clarity, then a cochlear implant may be in your future. These devices have improved remarkably over the past decade in terms of both performance and features, to the point that the cutoff for implantation is shifting. The change for the patient can be remarkable – patients will often go from near or complete deafness to hearing at normal volumes. The implants still cannot replicate natural sound exactly, so considerable rehabilitation may be required. However, many patients effectively re-enter society with these devices.
Of course, candidacy for these and other options will depend on many variables that must be addressed with your ear, nose and throat doctor and your audiologist. The decision to proceed with cochlear implants, in particular, is quite complicated and requires additional specialized testing. But the technology is out there!
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