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Living With Severe Hearing Loss

By Sherry Rauh
WebMD Feature

Samuel R. Atcherson, PhD, was a toddler when his babysitter noticed he didn't respond to sound the way other kids do. He was diagnosed with mild hearing loss that progressed to severe hearing loss by the time he was in college.

"Growing up, I rarely used the phone, because I could not understand," Atcherson recalls. "This affected my social life considerably, and I certainly had moments of feeling isolated."

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Atcherson used hearing aids, but still had trouble following conversations. "I continued to struggle, especially in the classroom," he tells WebMD. So he decided to try a cochlear implant. After an adjustment phase, he noticed real improvements in his hearing skills. Atcherson went on to earn a PhD in audiology.

Like Atcherson, many people struggle with hearing in the classroom, at the movies, and in other everyday situations. Fortunately, there are a growing number of technologies and strategies that can help.

What Is Severe Hearing Loss?

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, about 17% of American adults have hearing loss that ranges from mild to profound. Severe hearing loss generally means a person can't hear the speech of others without technological assistance.

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for coping with a severe hearing impairment. That's why it's critical to understand your type of hearing loss and know your options.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs when the outer or middle ear is unable to conduct sound to the inner ear. This may be the result of excessive ear wax, fluid buildup, or structural abnormalities in the ear. Medical treatment or surgery may be able to restore hearing in some cases.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss refers to a problem with the inner ear or auditory nerve. Most often, the hair cells in the inner ear that detect sound are abnormal or damaged. This type of hearing loss is permanent. A hearing aid is the most commonly used strategy to treat sensorineural hearing loss, but there are a variety of other devices that can help compensate for the loss.  

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