Kim Richard Jones, M.D., Ph.D.
Adult and Pediatric Otolaryngology
Kathy Yu, M.D., M.P.H.
Adult and Pediatric Otolaryngology
Erin Blackburn, Au.D./CCC-A/F-AAA
Carolina ENT Associates 55 Vilcom Center Drive, Suite 140
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
phone: 919.942.7278
fax: 919.942.9029
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Hearing Loss

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Sudden Hearing Loss

Although this should go without saying, anyone who experiences a sudden loss of hearing (often people awaken with this) should see their doctor immediately. This is called Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL), and is presumed to occur as a result of damage to the inner ear, although what causes this damage is unknown. In general, recovery follows “the rule of thirds”. That is, 1/3 of people will recovery completely, 1/3 will recover to some degree, and 1/3 will have little recovery. Although many treatments have been tried for SSHL, none have proven particularly successful. The difficulty is that because recovery can be so variable, it would take either a very large number of patients or a particularly dramatic response for a treatment to prove statistically beneficial. Having said that, many otolaryngologists (including myself) feel that putting patients with SSHL on oral steroids as soon as possible seems to help with the recovery process.


Gradual Hearing Loss

This is by far the most common type of hearing loss and can have many causes. Probably the most prevalent is what we call “presbyacusis” (literally “elder hearing”) which is the loss of hearing sensitivity that occurs in all of us as we get older. This usually is most pronounced at the high frequencies, and results in the complaint that “I can hear someone talking, but I can’t make out some of the words.” Because this type of hearing loss is gradual, other people often notice it before the patient does. The degree to which this affects an individual depends on many factors, including the amount of noise the person was exposed to over their life, whether they have a family history of hearing loss, etc. Unfortunately, there is no good treatment other than hearing aids (see section on Hearing Aids). Other causes of gradual hearing loss include fluid in the middle ear, otosclerosis (a disease of the tiny bones in the ear), and tympanosclerosis (scarring of the ear). Some of these latter conditions can be surgically corrected.

To determine what is causing your hearing loss, a hearing test is usually necessary to pinpoint the source of the loss. Other tests, such as your ability to understand speech, may also be helpful. If you would like to schedule an appointment for a hearing evaluation, make sure you mention this when you make your appointment, as our audiologist is only here on certain days.

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