Can hearing loss be restored?
Posted by Roger LaRose, M.A., Director of Audiology Services on May 19, 2021
The quick and frank answer to the question, “Can hearing loss be restored?” is no, once hearing is lost, you cannot restore it to how it was.
But notice the “how it was” part of that answer. That’s because, while you can’t go back to the way you used to hear, you can still absolutely treat hearing loss and significantly improve how well you’re currently hearing.
Let us explain.
There are basically two types of hearing loss. One type — conductive hearing loss — happens when sounds are unable to travel through the outer or middle ear due to an obstruction or other issue. Many times, conductive hearing loss can be treated with surgery or medicine.
The most common type of hearing loss — sensorineural hearing loss — occurs when the inner ear or hearing nerve stops working how they should, usually from damage caused by aging or noise. (There’s a third type — mixed hearing loss — but that’s just a combo of the other two.)
While sensorineural hearing loss can’t be corrected medically or surgically, it can almost always be treated and helped with amplification.
Hearing aids can improve lost hearing
Hearing aids have been the go-to way we amplify sounds for people with hearing loss for the last 100 or so years. Back then, of course, they just amplified everything — which did not help their reputation. Even today, personal sound amplification devices (PSAPs) and hearing amplifiers you can buy online or at drug stores operate similarly — just raising the volume on everything.
But today’s best hearing aids are a different story altogether. Thanks to a lot of technical underneath-the-hood stuff, they’re able to distinguish between signals/sounds of interest — like voices and speech — and “noise” that just makes listening hard and uncomfortable. Then they can instantly and automatically amplify those sounds you want to hear, while suppressing the ones you don’t. They’re that smart.
In the hands of an experience hearing professional, they become even smarter — because that hearing professional is able to fine tune them to help with the specific frequencies, intensity levels and environments you struggle with, not unlike how eyeglass prescriptions are tailored to your vision.
The TL;DR version
So, no, hearing loss cannot be restored to how you remember it when it was “normal”. But it can certainly be treated, helped and improved with hearing aids. And, if what we hear so often from first-time wearers is true, you’ll be amazed at what you’ve been missing all the years you didn’t wear them.