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Why early treatment for hearing loss is essential

By: Paul Harrison Updated: 22nd November 2019 in: Articles
Why early treatment for hearing loss is essential

If you delay getting a hearing aid, you could be causing more damage to your hearing. Over time, without amplification, your perception of sound can change.

Why?

When you hear a sound it’s because your ears have detected a vibration in the air and transmitted it via the inner ear to the auditory nerve. This nerve carries the signal to the brain which processes the signal into the day to day noise and speech sounds that you recognise

In order for the auditory cortex to function it needs to be used. Just like any other muscle in the body.

If you run 5k every day you will build strong muscles. If you stop running for a few months those muscles will begin to relax and lose their tone and strength. When you decide to go running again you will find your muscles aren’t as strong as they used to be. Your legs will ache and you will tire easily.

This is because the strong muscle you built up hasn’t been used, and has started to become weaker.

Your brain is no different. If you stop using part of it, or if signals can no longer reach it, it will divert energy elsewhere. Several research studies back up this claim.

In one of these studies, people with sound induced hearing loss in both ears were given one hearing aid.

Some years later their hearing was tested and no further hearing loss had occurred. However, when they were given two hearing aids they were unable to understand speech in the ear that had been unaided. So despite the fact that their hearing hadn’t got worse, their perception of sound had changed.

Because the hearing nerve and auditory cortex hadn’t been used, they were unable to process the sound into recognisable words. In normal hearing, the brain is able to pick out speech sounds from the clutter of background noise and make sense of them. For the people in this study, this ability had been lost.

This shows that not only is early treatment important but that it’s essential to have hearing aids that are properly programmed to your exact hearing loss.

In a different study, MRI scans of people with severe hearing loss were compared with those of people with normal hearing. These scans showed that the auditory cortex was smaller in participants with hearing loss. This backs up the theory that unused parts of the brain start to shrink or disappear when they are not used. Once brain cells are lost, they are not replaced.

Whilst everyone’s brain begins to shrink as they age, the scans of people with normal hearing had a larger auditory cortex. This means that there was no change in their ability to recognise and process sounds.

So, why don’t people get hearing aids straight away?

Perhaps they feel there’s a stigma around wearing hearing aids. They don’t want to be seen as getting old. They don’t realise just how small and discrete modern hearing aids are.

But the longer you ignore any hearing problems, the worse your hearing will get.

Hearing aids can keep the hearing nerves and brain stimulated and healthy. This means that even if your hearing does begin to get worse over time, with the right amplification you will still be able to process sounds and conversation.

Your hearing aids may not be perfect right away, if you’ve had untreated hearing loss for some time it could take a while for your brain to get used to noise again. If you’re struggling with them ask your audiologist for advice.

The sooner you get help and advice about your hearing loss, and get hearing aids, the easier it will be to get used to them. Early intervention will also prevent further hearing difficulties by ensuring that the hearing nerves and auditory cortex are used to their full potential.  We, at Hearing Aid UK, have a dedicated team of over 200 independent audiologists that can help, support and advice you.

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Paul Harrison
Hearing Aid Advisor
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