Acquired deafness is a loss of hearing that manifests over time. Not present at birth, acquired deafness is often initiated by inner ear damage resulting from injury or illness. Treatment options for acquired deafness are designed to improve one's quality of life, but cannot reverse permanent inner ear damage or hearing loss.
Hearing loss is a progressive condition for which people often delay seeking treatment. Admitting that one may not be able to hear as well as he or she once could can trigger feelings of frustration, anxiety, and even depression. It is usually when hearing loss significantly impacts the individual’s quality of life that he or she may seek medical attention.
Initial testing generally evaluates one’s ability to hear common sounds, such as speech, as each ear is alternately covered. If a hearing deficiency is detected, the individual may be referred to an audiologist for additional diagnostic tests to determine the cause of the acquired deafness. Commonly, tones of varying pitches are delivered through headphones to assess the extent of one's hearing loss.
Aside from age-related hearing loss, it is not uncommon for acquired deafness to occur in the wake of chronic ear infections or other serious conditions of the inner ear. Structural damage, such as eardrum perforation, can also result in the permanent loss of one’s hearing. Additional factors that may contribute to acquired deafness include genetic predispositions for hearing loss and occupational hazards, such as regular exposure to loud noises associated with factory or demolition work.
Initial symptoms of acquired hearing loss are often subtle. Conversations and everyday sounds may become increasingly muted or sound more distant than they actually are. Individuals with hearing loss may express concern about their inability to properly engage in conversations, because they are unable to understand what others are saying. In order to avoid uncomfortable situations of having to ask others to repeat themselves, individuals with hearing loss may internalize their concerns and limit their social interactions or withdraw completely.
Depending on the extent of hearing loss, individuals with acquired deafness may be outfitted with a hearing device. Individuals with mild hearing loss often benefit from the use of a hearing aid designed to amplify sound. If one’s acquired deafness is severe, he or she may be a likely candidate for an electronic cochlear implant.
Unlike a hearing aid, a cochlear implant replicates natural hearing by ushering sound waves directly to the auditory nerve. It is important to understand that a cochlear implant does not reverse hearing loss and those who receive a cochlear implant must often undergo therapy to relearn communication skills. Cochlear implantation does carry some risk for complication, including infection, nerve damage, and implantation failure.