Older man having nerve pain on his neck

Has your doctor told you that your hearing loss can’t be fixed with hearing aids? Take a deep breath, take a step back, and let’s look at the bigger picture. Your doctor may be saying that your hearing loss is actually nerve damage, which, according to them, renders you ineligible for traditional hearing aids. This may sound like a dark diagnosis, but thankfully, the reality is a lot more promising.

Come along, and let’s explore the intricacies of the relationship between nerve damage and hearing loss. There are a lot of common misconceptions about it, but there are also many alternative options available to those grappling with sensorineural hearing loss.


What Is Nerve Damage?

The term “nerve damage” refers to sensorineural hearing loss, or permanent hearing loss. With sensorineural hearing loss, you’ve sustained damage to either the tiny hair cells in your inner ear (also known as stereocilia), or to the nerve pathways that lead from your inner ear to the brain. This kind of hearing loss can result from:

  • Aging
  • Long-term noise damage OR a sudden blast/explosion
  • Head trauma
  • Tumors in the ear or head
  • Surgery
  • Ototoxicity (medication side effects)

Each human has 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 functional hearing hair cells, however, the remaining 20,000 to 30,000 cells are nonfunctional, leading to hearing loss. “Nerve damage” in this context refers to the permanent nature of the damage, and its impact on the transmission of auditory signals to the brain.


Busting the Myth — Hearing Aids CAN Help

The most common myth, often perpetuated by even the most educated health care professionals, is that people with severe nerve damage cannot benefit from hearing aids. This reasoning goes against proven fact because the primary purpose of hearing aids is to amplify sound, providing stimulation to the functioning hair cells within the cochlea, and enhancing the individual’s ability to hear. So, as long as you have SOME functioning hearing hair cells, which most patients do, hearing aids can still amplify sound for you.


If you’ve lost a majority of your functioning hearing hair cells, your doctor is partially correct — hearing aids will never restore your FULL, normal hearing. Still, the use of hearing aids and assistive listening devices can help maximize hearing abilities. In fact, a significant majority of patients experiencing sensorineural hearing loss, or nerve damage, can benefit substantially from hearing aids.


It is true that some patients with severe nerve damage may face limitations in the amount of improvement they can achieve through traditional hearing aids, but the vast majority can experience meaningful improvement in their hearing. One of the keys to unlocking this maximization of hearing lies in seeing an expert audiologist and working with them to choose the best hearing aid model for YOU and having them tailor the settings to your specific needs and degree of hearing loss. The other keys are a variety of additional methods.


Explore Alternative Options

For folks whose hearing loss is too severe for typical hearing aids, or for those who aren’t getting the desired amount of hearing improvement through sound amplification, alternative options may be the way to go. Cochlear implants are a great solution for people with severe damage or those who simply aren’t hearing the results they wanted from a regular hearing aid.


What are cochlear implants? In a nutshell, they’re small, surgically placed electronic devices to help you hear. They include an external part behind the ear and an internal part under the skin to do the work of the damaged inner ear. They can improve your speech understanding when hearing aids are no longer satisfactory.


Cochlear implants operate by bypassing damaged hair cells within the cochlea and stimulating the auditory nerve directly. This transmits signals to the brain and restores a sense of sound. While they aren’t recommended for everyone, cochlear implants have proven to be highly effective for people with severe hearing impairment.


For folks who have severe hearing loss in one ear or single-sided deafness that cannot benefit from a hearing aid in that ear, a CROS hearing device might be used. CROS stands for Contralateral Routing of the Signal. A CROS essentially works by picking up sound with a receiver on the unaidable or “bad” ear and transmitting it over to the receiver on the good ear. This can help to hear sounds all around you.


Seek Professional Guidance

With all the new studies linking issues such as cognitive decline to hearing loss, it is more important than ever to have your hearing checked by an expert. Folks who experience hearing loss, especially if the diagnosis is sensorineural hearing loss (nerve damage), should seek professional guidance from experienced audiologists and otolaryngologists. Myths and outdated research can lead to missed opportunities for positive intervention and an improved quality of life. Working with your local hearing care professionals to come to a diagnosis and develop a personal treatment plan is essential. Additionally, make sure you’re getting a thorough audiological assessment, including a detailed evaluation of your hearing function and the extent of any nerve damage.


Understanding the intricate relationship between nerve damage and hearing loss allows you to make informed decisions about your hearing health. If you or a loved one is experiencing hearing loss, it’s important to be an advocate and challenge misconceptions, explore alternate options, and seek professional wisdom.


Take the first step toward better hearing by scheduling an appointment with Chesapeake Hearing Centers today. With eight locations to serve you, one is bound to be nearby. We can’t wait to serve you and help you hear your best!

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