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Hearing, Balance, and Facial Disorders
Why are hearing, balance, and facial disorders grouped together? The answer is location. The facial (VII cranial) nerve extends from the base of the skull, courses through the temporal bone and comes in proximity to the inner ear and the vestibuloauditory (hearing and balance) nerve, or VIII cranial nerve. The facial nerve then passes through the salivary gland, and divides and connects to facial muscles, the tear gland, and the tongue.
The inner ear includes both the organ for hearing (auditory) and for balance (vestibular). Because a small bit of common ground in the temporal bone is shared by these three systems, when something happens to one the other two could be at risk.
Facial nerve disorders do not occur as frequently as hearing and balance disorders. In fact, vertigo, hearing loss, and tinnitus are common complaints of men and women of all ages. Often striking during the most productive years of life, the disorders typically worsen with age. Severity of symptoms may range from minor to catastrophic and incapacitating limitations in function. Despite their frequency and potential for severity, hearing and balance disorders are usually subjective in nature and not life-threatening.
While patients who suffer from hearing loss, tinnitus, or disequilibrium continue to present a challenge to the medical profession, new technological and medical advances permit many patients to be successfully evaluated and treated.
UT Southwestern physicians are highly respected for their skill in diagnosing and treating hearing, balance, and facial disorders. We use a team approach to address your specific conditions to get you back to good health.
Hearing loss affects an estimated 20 million Americans, and ranges in severity from a minor nuisance to a profound disability. It can be a frightening and isolating condition in its more severe forms.
The ear is an exquisite device providing the input necessary for us to live in the hearing world. As with most valuable things, the ear is as fragile as it is useful. There are many things that can affect any or all parts of the outer, middle, and inner ear.
If you have hearing loss, regardless of the cause, you’ll receive a comprehensive medical evaluation of the ears from one of our physicians (otologists) specializing in the ear and hearing.
Once evaluated, you may benefit from medical or surgical intervention. Or, you might seek further evaluation from a UT Southwestern Medical Center audiologist to determine whether hearing aids, cochlear implants, or other forms of rehabilitation would be appropriate.
Tinnitus is an undesirable perception of ringing or noise occurring in the ear. The noise is sometimes described as hissing, crickets chirping, crackling, or buzzing.
At least 12 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, and approximately one million of them experience a serious decrease in quality of life, primarily through chronic sleep disturbance.
At UT Southwestern, our clinical audiologists will perform a full spectrum of tests to determine the cause of the unwanted sounds. In many patients the cause remains unknown, and definitive therapy may be lacking even in those with a confirmed diagnosis. Some may respond favorably to medical treatment while some might benefit from surgery. Most patients, however, will require supportive therapy aimed at lessening the impact of the disorder, making it easier to live with.
Such supportive therapy may include hearing aids, tinnitus maskers, biofeedback, and/or therapy with a psychologist.
UT Southwestern uses a team approach to treat each patient’s specific condition, giving you access to any specialist you might need to return to health.
Biofeedback is a therapy technique in which patients learn to use their mind to control bodily functions – like their heart rate – to achieve specific results, such as reducing pain. Electrical sensors help patients measure and receive feedback about their body.
Facial nerve retraining is an exercise-based treatment approach using sensitive electromyograph (EMG) biofeedback therapy, specific mirror exercises, and other specific training activities. These techniques are used to promote selective voluntary control of affected muscles and promote automatic facial gestures.
Many patients with facial paralysis have facial asymmetries and abnormal movement patterns because they’re unable to inhibit mass movements of the entire face. Other patients keep their face relatively immobile and expressionless, thereby decreasing the potential for increasing facial function.
Retraining procedures may involve teaching you to relax the uninvolved side of the face, training the involved side to develop slow, fine motor control of selective areas, reducing inappropriate or involuntary facial movements, and participating in a home exercise program. Education is extremely important to help you understand the causes of your dysfunction and how to manage it.