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What is Bilateral Hearing Impairment?

By J.M. Willhite
Updated May 17, 2024
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Bilateral hearing impairment is hearing dysfunction that occurs in both ears and hinders one’s ability to hear properly. Many individuals develop presbycusis, a degenerative condition characterized by gradual hearing loss, as they age. Treatment for bilateral hearing impairment is entirely dependent on the cause of the hearing loss. Individuals diagnosed with bilateral hearing loss are considered at an increased risk for developing psychological issues, including anxiety and depression.

Depending on the situation, the ear's functional defect may result from either injury or damage to the inner ear or wax buildup. Generally, sound waves travel as vibrations into the ear passing through to the inner ear. Arriving at the cochlea as nerve signals, sound waves are interpreted by the microscopic hairs within the cochlea and forwarded on to the brain. If any part of the middle or inner ear sustains damage, the transference of sound waves may be seriously impaired. Wax buildup within the ear cannot only create a physical blockage, but can inhibit the sound waves' journey to the inner ear.

In most cases, bilateral hearing impairment may be diagnosed with a variety of diagnostic tests, starting with a general hearing test in a physician's office. Once referred to an audiologist, an individual may have an audiometer test. Administered through headphones, the test involves the alternating delivery of tones of diverse degrees to each ear. As the individual hears the tone, he or she is instructed to raise the respective hand for the side on which he or she heard the sound. Some individuals may also undergo a tuning fork test that is used to further determine the extent of one’s hearing loss with the use of varying tuning fork sounds.

Those who develop bilateral hearing impairment may experience the gradual onset of a variety of signs and symptoms. Commonly, symptomatic individuals will notice environmental sounds become dull, muted or muffled. Oftentimes, they will experience difficulty deciphering others’ speech and frequently ask for clarification of what was said. Individuals who believe they may be developing some degree of bilateral hearing impairment may wait before seeking medical help. It is important to note that most forms of hearing loss, with the exception of that induced by wax buildup, are irreversible.

Treatment for bilateral hearing impairment is dependent on the cause of the hearing problem. Those whose impairment is due to wax buildup may undergo a simple, in-office procedure to remove the blockage and restore normal hearing. In cases where the hearing impairment is due to presbycusis or damage to the inner ear, the use of supplemental hearing devices, or hearing aids, may be required. Extensive and severe presentations of bilateral hearing impairment may necessitate the implantation of cochlear devices in both ears.

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