Any degree of hearing loss should be investigated and treated, especially in children.

Hearing loss is possibly one of the most noticeable symptoms of ageing.

One out of three people show signs of significant hearing loss by the age of 65. In fact, 30% of the Malaysian population aged above 60 years have hearing loss.

The most common cause of hearing loss is age-related natural degeneration of inner ear function, also known as presbycusis.

A smaller but very important group of people with hearing loss are those who are born with congenital deafness, with two to three out of every 1,000 children found to be profoundly deaf at birth.

A neonatal screening hearing test is strongly advocated for all newborn babies to test for their hearing level at birth.

Noise-induced hearing loss is another important cause of hearing loss that affects a significant number of people over all age groups. It results from repetitive and prolonged exposure to excessive levels of noise, either through a hobby or working environment.

A rarer but devastating cause of hearing loss is sudden onset hearing loss secondary to infections such as meningitis and other systemic infections.

Other causes of hearing loss include earwax build-up, an object in the ear, injury to the ear or head, ear infection, a ruptured eardrum, and other conditions that affect the middle or inner ear, such as otosclerosis and Meniere’s disease.

Many people are aware that their hearing has deteriorated but are reluctant to seek help. Perhaps they don’t want to acknowledge the problem, are embarrassed by what they see as a weakness, or believe that they can “get by” without using a hearing aid.

And, unfortunately, too many wait years, even decades, to address the effects of hearing loss before getting treatment.

But time and again, research demonstrates the considerable effects of hearing loss on development, as well as negative social, psychological, cognitive and health effects of untreated hearing loss.

Each can have far-reaching implications that go well beyond hearing alone. In fact, those who have difficulty hearing can experience such distorted and incomplete communication that it seriously impacts their professional and personal lives.

Treatment options for hearing impairments depend on the type and the degree of the hearing loss.

In mild to moderate hearing loss, a hearing aid provides a simple solution. Hearing aids now come in a dazzling array of shapes and sizes, and are equipped with programmable and special functions that are made to suit individual needs and lifestyles.

For certain types of conductive hearing loss such as middle ear effusion, tympanic membrane perforation and otosclerosis, traditional middle ear surgery may re-establish the hearing.

In recent years, technology advancement has given rise to further options such as bone-anchored hearing aids, fully-implantable hearing aids like Vibrant Soundbridge and Bone Bridge, as well as cochlear implants and auditory brainstem implants.

For the profoundly deaf, in whom a hearing aid offers little or no help, a cochlear implant is often the best or only option.

A cochlear implant, also aptly called a “bionic ear”, offers many of those who have lost their hearing, an opportunity to regain the ability to hear.

It even allows children who are born with congenital deafness the chance of acquiring speech and language skills.

A cochlear implant is a small device that is placed in the inner ear through surgery. It works by sending impulses directly to the auditory nerve (hearing nerve) in the inner ear, which carries signals to the brain where they are translated into recognisable sounds.

Although they’re not miracle devices, cochlear implants help some children and adults, whether they’re born deaf or whether hearing loss occurs later in life.

No single treatment or intervention is the answer for every child or family.

Hearing loss treatment is a multi-disciplinary approach, requiring state-of-the-art equipment and medical expertise, with an intervention plan that includes close monitoring, follow-ups, post-operative care and support.

In most cases, hearing loss cannot be restored to full audiometric normal levels, but it can be restored to fully functional hearing, which greatly impacts the patient’s quality of life and well-being.

This article is courtesy of Sunway Medical Centre. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.