Mayo Clinic on Better Hearing and Balance

April 30, 2014 at 11:34 am

image2Your son points out that you have the TV volume up too loud. Sometimes you hold on to furniture or the wall to maintain your balance. You have difficulty understanding what people are saying when you are in a group.  Hearing loss and dizziness are two of the most common reasons why people visit their doctors. Mayo Clinic on Better Hearing and Balance provides strategies to restore hearing, manage dizziness, and describes the delicate structures and amazing functions of the ear. Common ear disorders and ear-related problems are explained to help you become a more informed participant in effective prevention and treatment approaches.

Mayo Clinic on Better Hearing and Balance explains common hearing problems and types of hearing loss. Scientists have identified three types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural and mixed. Conductive hearing loss involves the ear canal and middle ear as they conduct sound waves to the sensory receptors of the inner ear. Blockage disrupts the sound waves and reduces perception of sound. This can occur from an excessive buildup of wax in the ear canal. Other reasons for conductive hearing loss include middle ear infections, foreign objects lodged in the ear, abnormal bone growth in the ear region, and head trauma.

Sensorineural hearing loss results from damage to the inner ear structures, such as the hair cells in the cochlea or the nerve fibers from the cochlea to the brain. This damage is most associated with general wear and tear of aging or with too much exposure to loud noise. Mixed hearing loss involves a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. For example, a person with age-related sensorineural hearing loss may develop conductive hearing loss from a middle ear infection. The conductive hearing loss from infection can usually be eliminated with medical treatment, but the sensorineural damage is likely untreatable.

The chapter on hearing exams offers a closer look at the specialty areas that may be involved in the diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss. Discover when an exam may be necessary, what’s involved in the exam and what the results mean. Hearing specialists are primarily otolaryngologists, neurotologists and audiologists. Their training is described as well as their areas of expertise. Often these specialists work together to diagnose and treat conditions. Recommended screening schedules are also reviewed. Taking action and scheduling a hearing exam can determine how well you’ll be hearing in the years ahead.

Problems of the outer and middle ear are discussed with descriptions of many of the common causes of conductive hearing loss and guidelines for preventing and treating these conditions. Outer ear problems are more often a discomfort and annoyance rather than a serious medical problem. Most commonly these include earwax blockage, swimmer’s ear, or a foreign object lodged in the ear. For example, swimmer’s ear, also known as acute otitis externa, is an infection of the ear canal. This usually results from persistent moisture in the ear, often from frequent swimming in combination with a mild skin injury of the ear canal. A small cut allows bacteria and fungi to invade and cause an infection. Hair spray and dyes may contribute to infection or allergic reaction.

The middle ear is affected by cysts, infections, tumors, and abnormal bone growth. Hearing loss may result when they disturb the eardrum or tiny bones in the middle ear. Often, normal hearing can be restored through medical or surgical treatment. However, it is important that the problem be properly diagnosed and treated to prevent expansion into the inner ear. These untreated problems may result in permanent hearing loss.

Problems of the inner ear involve the cochlea, which is the primary structure of the inner ear, and the auditory nerve. Sensorineural hearing loss includes damage to the cochlea, auditory nerve or both. A common form of this type of hearing loss is presbycusis. As we age, the hair cells gradually wear out. Some adults lose little hearing while others experience considerably more. The amount of hearing loss experienced depends on genetic and environmental factors. These factors include cumulative noise, sudden intense noise, medications, disease, physical trauma, and genetic disorders.

Prevention techniques are also recommended. Learn how to hold down the noise level in your house and to rest your ears by alternating noisy activities with quiet ones. Approximate sound levels of noise are described, ranging from a whisper at 30 decibels to a rocket launch at 180 decibels. A simple guideline for safe use of personal listening devices is the 80/90 rule. Use a music player at 80 percent maximum volume for up to 90 minutes a day. If you choose to listen for longer, the volume should be reduced.

Other chapters review tinnitus, the perception of sound in your ear caused by no external source. Learn how to live with hearing impairment in the workplace, in relationships, its emotional effects, the value of hearing dogs, how to find support, and methods for improving communication. Hearing aids and cochlear implants are described, along with considerations for advantages and disadvantages on how to select a hearing aid device and factors related to choosing cochlear implants and what the procedure entails.

Options for better communication include assistive listening devices, telephone devices, text messaging, Short Message Service, captioning, and alerting devices. Research and development regarding speech recognition and visual communication systems are also examined.

The final chapter analyzes problems with balance, how the vestibular system works, causes of dizziness, diagnostic tests, vestibular disorders, such as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, migraine-related dizziness, chronic subjective dizziness syndrome, Meniere’s disease, labyrinthitis, and other conditions. Tips to prevent falls are included, as well as information on vestibular rehabilitation, balance exercises, and the importance of staying active.

Mayo Clinic on Better Hearing and Balance is a practical resource to assist in protecting and preserving your hearing, maintaining mobility and balance, and minimizing the impact of hearing loss and dizziness on your daily life.

Debbie L. Fuehrer, L.P.C.C.
Complementary & Integrative Medicine Program


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