Take hearing problems seriously

Published 12:47 am Tuesday, May 20, 2008

May is better hearing and speech month which will help promote awareness and treatment of hearing problems.

According to the American Academy of Audiology, hearing loss is the third most common health problem in the United States. Although the causes may be quite different, hearing loss is a problem faced by all age groups. In small children, acute ear infections are common causes of hearing loss. Loss of hearing is critical in children around the age of 2 because speech development is so important at this age. Follow up is important to evaluate the ears for resolution of fluid. Less commonly, a child with an unrecognized congenital hearing loss may go for years without proper recognition and treatment. Now there are requirements that infants be tested at birth for nerve loss.

I must emphasize that this is a screening tool and if there is any suspicion that a child is not hearing well, a specialist must be consulted as soon as possible so that hearing aids can be fitted. Any child having difficulty with speech should be evaluated by an ear nose and throat specialist.

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As we get into late childhood and teenage years, hearing loss may be due to fluid accumulation from allergies, swimmer’s ear, or wax blockage. Because of the increasing usage of personal listening devices, it is estimated that there are 5 million children with significant hearing loss. For information on this subject check the following Web site: www.TurnItToTheLeft.

Occasionally kids escape recognition by the usual screening methods and are discovered to have a totally deaf ear. Because there is one normal ear, the child has been able to compensate over the years. Imaging studies are often very important to rule out major inner ear malformations. We also have genetic tests available to screen for inherited types of hearing loss.

Adult patients will begin to experience the effects of noise exposure on the ears. In our community, farming, hunting and factory work are the biggest contributors to noise-induced hearing loss. It is ironic that a person would take great care to protect their ears at work but at home operate equipment such as weed trimmers and blowers as well as shop equipment without any protection for their ears. A common symptom with hearing loss may be ringing (tinnitus) which if present should be evaluated by a specialist.

Finally, in adults there is the phenomenon of sudden hearing loss. By definition this is a sudden nerve deafness of at least 30 dBs over three frequencies lasting at least three days. Causes include autoimmune and vascular disorders and rarely tumors of the brainstem. It is essential that the patient be examined early because prognosis often depends on early treatment.

For patients with significant nerve loss we have aids using the latest digital technology. One area in hearing rehabilitation that has changed the greatest is the use of implantable devices. These devices include cochlear implants and magnetic transducers that attach to the delicate bones of hearing. We have now progressed to a point where a child that is deaf from birth can develop useful hearing using such technology.

Here’s the bottom line:

4If you feel there is something wrong with your child’s hearing, get it checked.

4Hearing aids are much more sophisticated and inconspicuous.

4Sudden hearing loss can represent a serious medical problem so get it checked as early as possible.

For more information about hearing as well as any other Ear Nose and Throat problems, check the Web site: www.entnet.org and our Web site: www.riverparkmedical.com.

John A White, M.D., F.A.C.S. is a ear, nose and throat specialist at Riverpark Hearing Specialists, L.L.C. at Riverpark Medical Center.