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Aiding in Awareness: Hearing Loss

September 12, 2016 12:59 PM with Dr. Michael Shinners

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How often do you get your hearing checked? Despite the fact that 48 million Americans experience significant hearing loss, many cases go undiagnosed. Fortunately, new advancements in treatment, including cochlear implants and hearing aids, are making a major difference in many lives. Find out more about hearing loss and treatment during our chat with Dr. Michael Shinners, who specializes in otology and neurotology within the department of Otolaryngology. He will take your questions on recognizing hearing loss, and talk about the different therapies and technology that are currently in use. 

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Kathryn (Moderator) - 1:00 PM:
Our chat on hearing is now open. You can submit questions at any time during our chat.

  Lee Ann (Park Ridge, IL) - 1:01 PM:
What are your thoughts on the Esteem hearing aid? How does this compare to external hearing aids?
Dr. Michael Shinners (NorthShore)
The Esteem implantable hearing device aims to replace a conventional hearing aid. The main difference is it requires surgery. As conventional hearing aids have become smaller and more high tech, the negatives have gotten smaller. It is now common for hearing aids to be minimally noticeable, if at all. However; if one wants to avoid a hearing aid it is an option.

  M. (Skokie, IL) - 1:05 PM:
Can hearing loss be hereditary? Are there any tests to determine this?
Dr. Michael Shinners (NorthShore)
Hearing loss can be hereditary. Being born with hearing loss is one of the most common genetic abnormalities children are born with. There are genetic tests that often determine the cause of hearing loss in children. There are adult onset genes that cause hereditary hearing loss as well. We are not quite as far along with testing to determine adult onset hearing loss. However; with a good family history, one can often determine if there is a hereditary component to one's hearing loss.

  Antonia (Evanston, IL) - 1:08 PM:
I occasionally have a clicking sound in my right ear. Is that a possible need for concern? If so, what should I do?
Dr. Michael Shinners (NorthShore)
There are many causes for clicking in one's ears. A hearing test and exam are warranted at your convenience.

  Ron (Chicago, IL) - 1:10 PM:
What are the alternative options if BAHA is not within my budget?
Dr. Michael Shinners (NorthShore)
It depends if the Baha would be for single-sided deafness or conductive hearing loss. if one has single-sided deafness, a CROS hearing aid is an option - it sends sound from the deaf side to the good side wirelessly instead of vibrating sound waves through bone. If it is for conductive hearing loss, there may be a surgical option besides Baha. Baha surgery often is covered by insurance.

  Angela (Chicago, IL) - 1:14 PM:
My sister was diagnosed with tinnitus 15 months ago with no relief yet. A hearing test showed moderate to severe high frequency hearing loss. Do hearing aids work in this situation? Does tinnitus get better or worse as time passes? Thank you.
Dr. Michael Shinners (NorthShore)
When one has tinnitus, it can fluctuate in intensity. Stress and not sleeping well tend to exacerbate tinnitus. Depression and/or anxiety can make it worse too. When one has hearing loss that could benefit from hearing aids, sometimes wearing the aid can make the tinnitus less bothersome in addition to helping hearing. Biofeedback called tinnitus retraining therapy can help as well. Background noise quietly in the background can help when one is in quiet.

  Jane (Evanston, IL) - 1:17 PM:
I have a similar question - are there any treatments to make tinnitus go away for good?
Dr. Michael Shinners (NorthShore)
No, but there are many researchers working on this problem as 50 million people in this country have tinnitus.

  Kauai (Skokie, IL) - 1:20 PM:
I am 42 and lost my hearing in both of my ears, but could not have hearing aids because of pregnancy. Is there a reason why this is? Should I be able to get them after pregnancy?
Dr. Michael Shinners (NorthShore)
I do not know of any reason why one could not wear hearing aids during pregnancy.

  Lee Ann (Park Ridge, IL) - 1:21 PM:
Has there been any new progress on creating a totally implantable cochlear implant?
Dr. Michael Shinners (NorthShore)
The big question for a totally implantable cochlear implant is where to put the microphone that is receiving the sound and what to do if a rechargeable battery would need to be changed. The cochlear implant companies are likely continuing to work on this idea, but there is not anything imminently coming out. However; the external sound processor continues to get smaller with each upgrade. Cosmesis will continue to improve over time.

  Cathy (Glenview, IL) - 1:25 PM:
My father, who is 82, has hearing loss. He does wear hearing aids that help, except with background noise. Is there anything that is out there that is good for reducing background noise?
Dr. Michael Shinners (NorthShore)
Hearing background noise even with good hearing aids remains a challenge. Current hearing aids are much better at this problem than they used to be. However; they are not where they need to be yet. Trying to reduce the background noise by the situation is the best one can do currently, unless of course the hearing aids are old; an upgrade may make a difference.

  Sharon (Chicago, IL) - 1:28 PM:
Can you offer some advice on talking to someone who is sure they have no hearing problem (despite this being clear)? I have a relative who is unwilling to put up with any assisting technology because "it doesn't help" and "it doesn't bother me."
Dr. Michael Shinners (NorthShore)
This is a tough one that requires some nuance. It's true that if someone adamantly doesn't want to try hearing aids, forcing them to won't help. However; we know that hearing loss can lead to a feeling of isolation, depression and even cognitive problems. There is a trial period by Illinois law, so encouraging a loved one to give it a try knowing they can return them if not satisfied is a good first step.

  Kimberly (Glenview, IL) - 1:31 PM:
What kind of events can cause damage to the cochlear nerve?
Dr. Michael Shinners (NorthShore)
The nerve ends in microscopic hair cells are in the inner ear. Noise trauma from a single loud exposure or repetitive noise exposure is one of the most preventable medical conditions in this country: noise-induced hearing loss. There are a small amount of medications that can cause hearing loss, such as a few chemotherapeutic agents and a specific class of antibiotics called aminoglycosides. A severe skull fracture through the inner ear can cause permanent hearing loss as well.

  Barbara (Niles) - 1:35 PM:
What do you think about Bluetooth being used with hearing aids?
Dr. Michael Shinners (NorthShore)
Very cool!

  Kim (Highland Park, IL) - 1:37 PM:
What do the different abbreviations, like BAHA and CROS, stand for? How would I know which one to get?
Dr. Michael Shinners (NorthShore)
CROS stands for contralateral routing of signal. Essentially, send it to the other side. Baha is Baha. It is used to stand for bone anchored hearing aid, but that is not used very much anymore as that name resulted in insurance denials even though it is not a hearing aid. This requires outpatient surgery. Having a visit with an audiologist and an otolaryngologist is how you can become more educated about what your options are.

  Neil (Arlington Heights, IL) - 1:40 PM:
Is there anything preventative I can do for my kids to keep their hearing healthy? I always wondered if wearing things like ear buds or having the TV too loud could do more damage than they think.
Dr. Michael Shinners (NorthShore)
Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most preventable medical problems in this country. The incidence of tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hearing loss in teenagers and young adults has increased over the last 20 years possibly due to noise exposure. There are apps now that do a fairly good job determining decibel levels. Listening to music via earbuds or headphones that is uncomfortably loud for you is too loud as a rule of thumb. Talking to your children about noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus might get you blank stares, but it is a place to start. Earplugs at concerts are mandatory. Point out to your children that the musicians onstage are wearing them.

  Walt (Wilmette, IL) - 1:44 PM:
What is the difference between the BAHA and Sophono implants? How can I know which one would be better for improving my hearing?
Dr. Michael Shinners (NorthShore)
They are similar in that both are temporal bone implants placed under the skin requiring the use of an external sound processor. The main difference is in the sound processor externally. Sitting down with an audiologist and an otolaryngologist who performs these surgeries is how you can become educated about your options.

  Lois (Chicago, IL) - 1:47 PM:
How often should adults regularly get their hearing checked? I wasn’t sure if I should just ask my primary care doctor, or if I was supposed to go to a specialist.
Dr. Michael Shinners (NorthShore)
There are no recommendations for routine hearing screenings in adults. However; if you feel you are having more difficulty understanding people's speech than you used to, it is very reasonable to get a hearing test. Your primary care doctor can order a hearing test, which is done with an audiologist.

  Gemma (Evanston, IL) - 1:50 PM:
At what age is it safe for a child to have surgery for an implant? Is this only done when they have complete hearing loss?
Dr. Michael Shinners (NorthShore)
If you are referring to a cochlear implant, it is FDA approved down to 12 months of age. However; it can be done even earlier with insurance authorization with the goal of stimulating the part of the brain responsible for speech and language development. It is not just for complete hearing loss. It is for severe to profound hearing loss that is not benefiting from the traditional amplification of hearing aids.

  Pam (Glenview, IL) - 1:53 PM:
Is there any new technology that’s being tested now to treat hearing loss?
Dr. Michael Shinners (NorthShore)
Yes. The most common cause of nerve hearing loss associated with aging among other causes, is a loss of hair cells in the inner ear. For years, researchers have been trying to figure out how to get hair cells to grow back. This has been at the animal model level. There are now some clinical studies open around the country for humans trying to achieve this same goal.

  Rob (Evanston, IL) - 1:57 PM:
How does one know if they have damaged or ruptured their eardrum?
Dr. Michael Shinners (NorthShore)
By a simple ear exam with one's primary care physician or an otolaryngologist.

  Jen (Chicago, IL) - 1:59 PM:
Can changes in hearing ever indicate that there's a bigger problem?
Dr. Michael Shinners (NorthShore)
Yes. A sudden change in hearing needs to be evaluated as quickly as possible. The other main indication that should be evaluated is when one can tell hearing is worse in one ear compared to the other.

Dr. Michael Shinners (NorthShore) - 2:02 PM:
Thank you for the excellent questions.

Kathryn (Moderator) - 2:02 PM:
This will be the end of our chat. Thank you for your questions. For more information on hearing loss and aids, or to get in touch with a specialist like Dr. Shinners, contact NorthShore's Department of Otolaryngology
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