Hearing Loss 101

Hearing is a critical component of physical, social and emotional well being, yet it’s easily taken for granted. Managing potential hearing loss can seem an overwhelming task. Experts from two Madison healthcare providers—Meriter Monona and UW Health—offer medical intervention, support, education and resources for anyone affected by hearing loss. 

Sensorineural Versus Conductive Hearing Loss

There are two main types of hearing loss: sensorineural and conductive. Sensorineural refers to a problem with the inner ear, and it’s typically managed with devices that aid hearing. Conductive is mechanical; something is blocking the sound from getting from the outside to the inside. Examples include fluid behind the ear or a retracted eardrum. These issues are often corrected through surgical or medical intervention. Some patients present with a combination of the two.

“In general, when a patient first comes in we’re looking down the road at what kind of intervention might be possible to make them hear better,” says Kathy Brewer, MS, CCC-A, audiologist at UW Hospital and Clinics. “We always want to rule out medical and surgical options before we begin to
explore amplification.”

Aging and Hearing Loss

One of the most common types of sensorineural hearing loss is presbycusis, or hearing loss associated with aging. Most patients first notice presbycusis when they have a hard time picking out sounds in a crowd, hearing the television, or understanding a spouse speaking from another room. For many, the eventual need for hearing aids is inevitable, not unlike reading glasses. Repeated exposure to noise damages the inner ear and, put simply, the longer we’re alive the more prolonged exposure we’ve had. Additional health factors include smoking, high cholesterol and a history of strokes. 

“I can tell you I’ve seen some patients well into their eighties and nineties with almost perfect hearing, though,” says Dr. Neil Brown, division chief of Meriter’s new Otolaryngology department in Monona. “My suspicion is there is some genetic component as well.”

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss 

About 12.5 percent of children and seventeen percent of adults have suffered permanent damage from excessive exposure to noise, according to Brown and his colleague at Meriter Monona, Dr. Michael McDonald

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