The quality of life of many South Africans of different ages is affected by hearing loss. Although hearing aids offer a solution for many, they're not always equally effective. The unfortunate reality is, however, that only a small percentage of people suffering from hearing loss are eligible for surgery. “It depends on the type of hearing loss." The study was published in Healthy Hearing.

There are many reasons for hearing loss. One of the most common causes of deafness is a sensorineural hearing loss, which involves the nerves. Old age causes it, consistent exposure to loud noise, infections, trauma to the head or ears, tumors and even medication. This type of hearing loss is permanent.

Hearing Loss

Other reasons for hearing loss include disorders of the auditory process, where the brain has trouble processing sounds, conductive hearing loss where the middle or outer structure of the ear has problems transferring sounds to the inner ear, or mixed hearing loss where there is a combination of causes. 

Types of hearing surgery

1. Cochlear implants 

Cochlear implants are often performed in adults and children with the profound sensorineural hearing loss. The implants can restore partial hearing and, unlike a hearing aid, the implant bypasses the damaged part of nerve instead of merely amplifying sound.

2. Hearing aid implants

External hearing aids have developed significantly over the past few decades, but for extended wear, an internal implant is often considered. One of the most commonly performed hearing aid implants is a bone-anchored implant (BAHA), which entails the stimulation of the cochlea by transmitting sounds through the bone of the skull. 

3. Pressure equalizing (PE) tubes 

This procedure entails the insertion of tubes into the ear to equalize pressure and allow air through in cases where the Eustachian tube (the tube that connects the middle of the ear to the back of the nose) becomes blocked with fluid.

An incision is made in the eardrums and any fluid drained out. Tiny, hollow metal or plastic tubes are then inserted to allow air through to the middle of the ear, and as the eardrum heals, these get pushed out again. Sometimes long-term tubes are needed, which are surgically removed.

4. Stapedectomy

This surgical procedure is often used to treat hearing loss caused by otosclerosis, a condition that causes abnormal bone growth inside the middle ear, which prohibits vibrations to travel through the ear. 

Hearing Bone

An incision is made behind the ear and muscle, or tissue is removed. Excess or abnormal bone (usually referred to as the “hearing bone” or the stapes bone) is fixed. A prosthesis is then inserted and connected to the second hearing bone (the incus) to allow sound waves to travel correctly.

It is likely that medical technology will come up with more non-invasive options to restore hearing loss in the future. But since hearing surgery can currently only restore specific cases of hearing loss when hearing aids are not an option, hearing aids remain the most effective non-invasive method to help correct hearing.