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Stages of Untreated Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is typically a slow, gradual onset disorder that silently affects you. If you take time to reflect truly and deeply on your communication breakdown, I believe you will begin to recognize some of the initial symptoms of hearing loss. Do you have trouble understanding when 2 or 3 people are talking at the same time? Does background noise interfere with your understanding of the conversation? It is also difficult for many patients to rationalize the need for medical treatment of hearing loss because in some ideal listening environments, communication is not much of a challenge. But the truth is, a mild hearing loss is a major problem!
There is growing evidence that when an ear is deprived of sufficient sound stimulation, the ability of the auditory system to process speech presented to the ear gradually declines (accordingly to the September 1993 journal of the American Academy of Audiology). Leading into the advanced stages of hearing loss, the auditory cortex of the brain loses its ability to decode signals that are received clearly. This is known as Auditory Distortion and occurs when there is damage to the inner ear (cochlea) and its hair cells. Whether from cognitive causes, hereditary, noise exposure, ototoxic medications, the aging process, or some other form of inner ear damage, the person with sensorineural (or nerve deafness) type of loss typically experiences some degree of auditory distortion.
Auditory Distortion leads to degradation of sound quality and/or sound clarity, including speech sounds. Most of the time auditory distortion begins almost unnoticed. For example: “F” sounds as in “Frank” are heard as a “S” as in “Sank.” Permanent auditory distortion cannot be corrected by the use of hearing aids or any other known therapy, but regular use of hearing aids can often stabilize the progression of the distortion. The key to reducing the risk of permanent and irreversible auditory distortion is early treatment. Just as any other progressive and active disease process, hearing loss must be detected and treated early if maximum results are to be expected.
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