Loss of hearing affects many millions of Americans. Hearing loss can result in social isolation and other problems substantially affecting the individual’s quality of life. The most common cause of hearing loss typically affects the inner ear. Specifically, sensory elements in the inner ear start to deteriorate thus resulting in a decreased sensitivity. These elements are called hair cells and they are quite sensitive to various stimuli such as chronic noise exposure (noise induced hearing loss), certain drugs (ototoxicity mainly from certain antibiotics, chemotherapy, etc…) or certain viral diseases. Also, hair cell loss along with a loss of other structures in the inner ear has been strongly linked to aging. Thus, loss of hearing is somewhat natural process of aging, which will affect most individuals.
Up to a certain degree, hearing loss can be overcome via the use of hearing aids. These devices amplify the incoming sound and thus present a louder signal to the inner ear. Typically, hearing aids cannot overcome the lack of speech understanding associated with more severe degrees of hearing loss. Thus, patients will state that they can hear that someone is talking but they have difficulties making out words. Cochlear implants can restore the individual’s ability to understand but a certain severity of hearing loss has to be present before cochlear implants can be considered. Also, new technology includes implantable hearing aids, which will work via amplification of the incoming signal.