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Health & Pregnancy

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Treating Childhood Hearing Loss

'Hears' Good News

Devices to Treat Childhood Hearing Loss

Treatment for hearing loss depends on its cause. According to William M. Luxford, MD, a specialist in otolaryngology and an associate of the House Ear Clinic at St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles, most hearing loss caused by problems with the outer or middle ear can be treated with medicine (such as antibiotics to clear up an infection) or by cleaning out the ear canals. Occasionally, surgery is required to repair damage to the eardrum or the bones of the middle ear, or to place a tube through the eardrum to allow fluid in the middle ear to dry up.

Neural hearing loss requires a different approach. Many children with this condition can be fitted with a hearing aid, sometimes even during the first few weeks of life. Keith tells WebMD that hearing aids have improved dramatically in the last few years. The new digital hearing aids analyze sound through a computer chip to amplify voices and filter out background noise. Some can be programmed to meet an individual's particular needs and may have a volume control feature that automatically amplifies soft voices without ever delivering a too-loud sound to the wearer's ear.

Although rare, there are people with hearing loss so profound or complete that hearing aids will not help. Fortunately, these individuals might benefit from a cochlear implant. This surgically-implanted device has wires that go from an external hearing aid directly into the auditory nerve. While it does not restore perfectly normal hearing, the device does allow profoundly deaf people to experience sound.

"These things are a miracle," says Keith about cochlear implants. "Children who are profoundly deaf who have cochlear implants have a much greater probability of developing speech and language than they ever did [without one]." Recently, Keith spoke on the phone with a formerly-deaf man who'd had a cochlear implant.

New Technologies for Learning and Language Development

New devices are also being developed to help hearing-impaired children benefit from the typical classroom environment. All children learn speech and language by hearing it in their surroundings, so the goal of these devices is to get as much speech stimulation to hearing-impaired children as possible.

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