Almost every day in our practice, a patient will come into the office and complain about hearing difficulty, saying that their doctor told them they can’t be helped with a hearing aid because they have severe nerve damage. What is nerve damage, and does your doctor really know what he or she is talking about?

The term “nerve damage” refers to sensorineural hearing loss, or permanent hearing loss, which may have resulted from noise exposure, head trauma, surgery, or aging. In every individual, there are approximately 40,000–50,000 hearing hair cells within the cochlea (the hearing mechanism). In most instances, patients with nerve damage still have 10,000– 20,000 hearing hair cells working, but the other 20,000– 30,000 are not functional.

The purpose of amplification (i.e., hearing aids) is to stimulate those active hearing hair cells in order for you to hear again. As a matter of fact, most patients benefiting from amplification have permanent nerve damage, or sensorineural hearing loss. Only patients who are deaf cannot benefit from hearing aids. However, in those extreme cases, there may be other communication options such as a cochlear implant.

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