When thinking about the treatment options for hearing loss, most people likely picture hearing aids and not much else. However, treatment options don’t start and end with hearing aids. There are also medical treatments for hearing loss.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Whether medical treatments for hearing loss are effective depends on the type of hearing loss that an individual experiences. Audiology experts treat conductive hearing loss medically. This type of hearing loss occurs when sound can’t travel well through the outer ear. This typically means something is blocking the space through which the sound would travel. Got an ear infection and can’t hear because of the swelling? Conductive hearing loss. Earwax buildup making it hard to hear? Conductive hearing loss again.

Because most of the causes of conductive hearing loss are temporary and reversible, it is typically medically treatable. For example, doctors cure ear infections (and the resulting hearing loss) with antibiotics. If earwax buildup is the cause of hearing loss, a doctor removes the wax by flushing or suctioning it out of the ear. If the conductive hearing loss is caused by a problem with the bones in the middle ear, surgery helps.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss, on the other hand, occurs when the inner ear is damaged. This typically involves damage to the tiny hair cells in the ear that make hearing possible. Sensorineural hearing loss can occur because of aging, head trauma and exposure to loud noise. Audiology experts consider this problem medically untreatable. Treatment is not possible because when the tiny hair cells in our ears are destroyed, they cannot grow back.

In such cases when medical treatment is not possible, doctors choose strategies to amplify sounds—including hearing aids and cochlear implants. In fact, in cases of sensorineural hearing loss, doctors recommend hearing aids or cochlear implants, because these treatments work 95% of the time. Hearing aids technologies are, fortunately, more effective today than they ever have been before.

Recent Scientific Discovery for Hearing Loss

Not long ago, the conversation would have ended here, with the black-and-white conclusion that conductive hearing loss is medically treatable and sensorineural hearing loss is not. However, some recent scientific discoveries and innovations now provide glimmers of hope that someday sensorineural hearing loss will be medically treatable and, perhaps, even curable.

Researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology developed a micropump to administer drugs and gene-therapy treatments to fight hearing loss. With this implanted micropump, doctors can continuously deliver drugs and other treatments within the ear at the exact doses necessary. According to David Burkholder, the leader of the project, existing pumps are not able to provide medication in such a precise way.

This micropump is certainly a step in the right direction, but it would be fairly useless without administration of effective drugs and therapies. Fortunately, researchers recently made progress in that arena too.

Remember those hair cells that that we said cannot grow back, causing permanent sensorineural hearing loss? Well, recent studies suggest that, with the use of stem cells, doctors may be able to generate new hair cells to replace damaged ones. If the process works, the results could be revolutionary. Imagine a world in which age-related hearing loss is a totally curable condition, not just a fixable one with hearing aids.

Final Thoughts

Clearly, the type of treatment that is best for hearing loss varies on a case-by-case basis. There is no universal treatment for all types of hearing loss. The most important thing to remember is that if you believe suffer from hearing loss, don’t avoid seeking treatment. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, only 20 percent of people who could benefit from hearing loss treatment actually seek help.

Most others wait until the condition becomes so dire that they can hardly communicate. Untreated hearing loss causes considerable emotional, social and physical pain. Don’t ignore your hearing loss at the expense of your quality of life.