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