Hearing Loss

There are essentially three types of hearing loss: sensorineural, conductive, and a combination of both. Our audiologists are nationally recognized for their approach to hearing and balance care. The audiologist reviews all treatment modalities with the patient/family including medical, hearing aid, and listening strategy options.

Sensorineural hearing loss refers to a weakness or damage to the hearing nerve or inner ear. This type of loss is typically permanent (with rare exception). Our audiologists are trained to identify the types of hearing loss that can potentially be reversed and pursue the requisite intervention.

Conductive hearing loss refers to a disruption of sound transmitted through the eardrum and into the middle ear. Frequently, conductive disorders are temporary and can be corrected with medical intervention.

Our audiologists engage the patient to obtain a relevant case history and then perform a comprehensive test battery. This helps to identify the appropriate intervention necessary for the patient's needs.

Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD)

Patients with CAPD often feel that they can hear but they can't understand. There is a decreased ability to accurately understand speech, particularly when speech is presented at a fast rate and/or in the presence of competing signals (e.g. background noise). This is often due to a reduced speed of signal processing within the auditory cortex. This can occur with or without measurable hearing loss and becomes more prevalent with age.

Additionally, there are instances of congenital auditory processing disorders that present in children. It is described as a neurological defect that affects how the brain processes spoken language. It makes it difficult for a child to process verbal instructions due to an inability to "filter out" background noise, such as in a classroom.

Behaviors seen in children with CAPD include:

  • Mishearing/discrimination problems
  • Inability to follow directions
  • Problems attending when spoken to
  • Distracted by background noise
  • Poor organization of verbal material
  • Oral and written expression problems
  • Remembering what they hear
  • Learning to read

Other Kinds of Hearing Loss

In addition to the above, other kids of hearing loss can occur. Read below for more information.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Exposure to loud noises can damage the hair cells of the inner ear, resulting in high-frequency hearing loss and/or tinnitus (ringing in the ears or head). The duration and amount of exposure determines the degree of damage to hearing and whether or not it is permanent. Cumulative noise exposure usually results in permanent hearing loss or tinnitus, but a one-time exposure can also be damaging. More than ever before, noise-induced hearing loss is prevalent in younger individuals even though it is preventable.

Protective devices, such as earplugs, ear muffs, or musician plugs are invaluable in preventing hearing loss. Routine monitoring of hearing thresholds is recommended as a safeguard to address this concern.

Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL) is a medical emergency defined as an individual experiencing at least 30 dB of sensorineural hearing loss occurring over 3 days or less. It typically occurs when there is damage to the inner ear (cochlea) or to the nerve pathways to the brain.

SSNHL are associated with head trauma (such as a car accident), acoustic trauma (exposure to loud noises), viral infections, tumors, decreased circulation to the inner ear, membrane breaks, or exposure to ototoxic medications. Also, it is not uncommon for it to occur for an unknown reason (idiopathic).

Treatment is managed by an otolaryngologist in conjunction with the audiologist in order to achieve maximum recovery of hearing. Pharmacological treatment can include steroids or antiviral medications when diagnosed close to the onset of symptoms.

Congenital Hearing Loss and Infant Hearing Screening

Congenital hearing loss refers to hearing loss that is present at birth. Objective hearing testing is available to test babies literally hours old. Early identification of hearing loss minimizes the long term effects of hearing impairment. The two most common tests that are performed on infants are: Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) and Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR). OAE testing looks at a child's hearing by placing a small probe microphone into the ear. Frequency specific sounds are presented and generate an "echo" back of those sounds. The test measures those echos to determine the integrity of the outer hair cells of the inner ear. The ABR measures the brain's ability to perceive sound. Small electrodes are placed on a child's head and ears which measures the brain's response to sound. Children are given a screening version of one of these tests before being discharged from the hospital.

Other Ear Conditions

We are experts on a variety of other ear conditions that may occur; click below for more information on most other common (and uncommon) conditions:

Acoustic Neuroma/Vestibular Schwannoma

An acoustic neuroma is a benign growth of the auditory nerve. Although it is slow growing and non-malignant, it can be problematic because it can potentially impact hearing, balance, tinnitus, and/or facial function. These growths are rare, occurring in only 1 out of 100,000 people per year.

The cause of acoustic neuromas is not easily known, but it can be associated with NF2 (Neurofibromatosis Type 2), an inherited genetic disorder. Acoustic neuromas are diagnosed with audiologic testing and/or an MRI with contrast. Treatment options include: observation, radiation and surgery.

Ear Infections and Otitis Externa

Middle ear infection (otitis media) often occurs after a cold or with an infection of the upper airway. The Eustachian tube aerates the middle ear to prevent fluid from collecting. The Eustachian tube is a channel from the back of the throat to the ear allowing air to fill the middle ear space. When fluid occurs, it is initially sterile, but with time, it can become infected.

Symptoms of otitis media include: ear pain, fever, decrease in hearing, and possibly drainage from the ear. Treatment may include a course of antibiotics. Long-term fluid may necessitate the need to insert tympanostomy tubes, a small tube placed through the eardrum, that serves a similar function as the Eustachian tube. This is a procedure performed by an ear physician based on the results of a hearing test battery and the medical history.

Otitis Externa (swimmer's ear) is an infection of the external ear canal. If there is too much wax in the ear canal, water, moisture, and debris may become trapped, increasing the risk for infection. Water from a pond, lake, ocean, and even a hot tub that houses increased bacteria can result in otitis externa. Believe it or not, Q-tips can cause external otitis due to trauma to the skin of the canal!

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD) occurs when the Eustachian tube, a narrow passageway connecting the middle ear with the nose is blocked or malfunctions and fails to allow pressure to equalize on both sides of the ear drum.

Most everyone has experienced ETD when they have a cold, allergies or gone up in an airplane. It is the "plugged" sensation you feel. The middle ear is a pressure-filled space that, under normal circumstances, has the same pressure as the environment around you. When the air pressure changes quickly, a normal functioning Eustachian tube will "pop" and re-equalize the pressure around the ear drum. If one has ETD, the Eustachian tube will remain closed in the circumstance and there will be a consistent plugged feeling.

Cholesteatoma

A Cholesteatoma is a growth of skin cells commonly occurring behind the ear drum that can cause damage to the ear drum, erode the middle ear bones and in some cases, impact the inner ear. Untreated cholesteatomas can lead to more serious problems including: chronic ear infections, permanent hearing loss, and dizziness. There are two types of cholesteatomas: acquired and congenital. The most common type is acquired: the cholesteatoma grows over time in a previously healthy ear. In this situation, it starts with a perforation or severe retraction of the ear drum. Congential cholesteatomas are those that an individual is born with and arise from cells that get "misdirected" during fetal development.

Symptoms of cholesteatomas include: hearing loss, intermittent or continuous drainage from the ear, acute or chronic infections and pain. In extreme cases, facial weakness/paralysis, dizziness and neurological symptoms can occur.

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)

BPPV is dizziness, typically a short-term spinning sensation, caused by calcium particles, otoliths, that are inappropriately displaced into the semicircular canals of the inner ear.

In cases of BPPV, the otoliths become displaced. This can occur from aging, infection, unknown reasons, head trauma, or labyrinthine disease. Once the otoliths are free-floating, specific positions of the head (often times, turning over in bed, looking up/down) can cause the otoliths to send a false signal to the brain, resulting in brief, but intense periods of dizziness or vertigo.

BPPV is treated following an assessment by an otolaryngologist and audiologist to determine the specific location of the displaced otoconia. Once identified, the audiologist will perform a relatively simple procedure to resolve the condition and alleviate the symptoms.

Meniere's Disease

Meniere's disease is an inner ear disorder that can affect hearing and balance. Individuals often experience recurring episodes of dizziness, tinnitus, and hearing loss. It will often affect one ear caused by an increase in volume and pressure of the fluid (endolymph) of the inner ear.

Symptoms of Meniere's Disease include: episodic vertigo (usually severe); fluctuating sensorineural hearing loss (can be one or both ears), typically impacting low frequency hearing; unilateral or bilateral tinnitus; and a sensation of fullness or pressure in one or both ears.

Treatment options for Meniere's disease vary on a case-by-case basis. In many instances, dietary modifications (ex., low salt diet) work to lower the pressure of the inner ear fluid.

Perforation (Hole) in the Tympanic Membrane (Ear Drum)

A perforation is a tear or other opening in the tympanic membrane. Sometimes, this occurs secondary to the presence of fluid behind the ear drum. Ear trauma, such as a blow to the head, or objects puncturing the ear drum (use of a Q-tip), can also cause a perforation and possible hearing loss.

Symptoms include: possible discharge from the ear, earache, or change in hearing.

Many perforations heal spontaneously, especially if it is small and located towards the center of the ear drum. Some perforations may require surgical repair, called a tympanoplasty.

Superior Semi-Circular Canal Dehiscence Syndrome

Superior Semi-Circular Canal Dehiscence Syndrome (SSCD) is a rare medical condition described as a thinning or complete absence of a portion of the temporal bone overlying the superior semicircular canal of the inner ear, which causes causes a hypersensitivity to sound and balance disorders.

Symptoms include: vertigo that arises from exposure to loud sounds; dizziness that increases with activity and settles when at rest; hearing loss, tinnitus and fullness can also occur.

Treatment can occlude surgery to repair the semi-circular canal.

Vestibular Neuritis and Labrynthitis

These are the result of inflammation of the vestibular nerve and can occur with or without hearing loss. Each ear has its own vestibular nerve and when a nerve is affected by inflammation, it creates an imbalance between the inputs provided to the brain. This results in vertigo, nausea, or possibly tinnitus.

Initial symptoms often present as a sudden onset of severe vertigo and/or hearing loss accompanied by nausea and vomiting lasting hours or days. The audiologist will help determine possible etiology (cause).

Vestibular Migraine

Vestibular migraines don't always cause headaches. The main symptom is dizziness that can be intermittent.

Vestibular refers to the inner ear, which controls hearing and balance. If you're having a vestibular migraine, you may feel dizziness that lasts more than a few minutes, have nausea and vomiting, feel sick or dizzy with head movement, may feel disoriented, and often have a sensitivity to loudness.

Like traditional migraines, they're more common in women than men. Vertigo symptoms most commonly first occur around age 40. But the condition doesn't just affect adults. Kids can get it, too!

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Highland Park, IL 60035

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Long Grove, IL 60047

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