Hearing impairment, whether mild, moderate, severe or profound, is predicted to affect as many as a quarter of all Australians by the year 2050, according to the Australian Network on Disability.
You could be forgiven for thinking hearing loss is a condition to be expected as you age. It’s not entirely correct though. There are currently more than 12,000 children in Australian schools who suffer from significant hearing loss. And there are other reasons, such as accident or exposure to loud noise, that result in some form of hearing impairment well before aging can be blamed.
Hearing Awareness Week puts the focus squarely on this all-important sense we sometimes take for granted. It’s the perfect time to take stock of what’s happening in your household. If you, or any one of your family, are having hearing difficulty, no matter how gradual the decline, arrange a hearing test to give you a benchmark on the current situation. Medical advances in this area are amazing and could well offer a happy solution to the problem.
Types of hearing loss
Hearing loss can result from many different causes, some of which can be successfully treated with medicine, surgery or hearing aids, depending on the disease process.
There are three types of hearing loss:
Conductive hearing loss
This is due to problems with the ear canal, ear drum, or middle ear and its little bones (the malleus, incus, and stapes). This prevents sound reaching the hearing nerve and can be caused by a blockage or an issue with the middle ear bones.
Sensori-neural hearing loss (SNHL)
This is due to problems in the inner ear, also known as nerve-related hearing loss. The cochlea or auditory nerve is affected, disturbing the transmission of sound signals to the brain. This is the loss mostly commonly associated with noise damage.
Mixed hearing loss
This is due to a combination of conductive and sensori-neural hearing loss where there may be damage in the outer or middle ear and in the inner ear (cochlea) or auditory nerve.
There’s also a 4th type!
There’s also a fourth type of hearing impairment that occurs only intermittently and most frequently affects husbands and teenagers. It’s called Selective Hearing which is commonly associated with a request to perform a household duty! I’m sure many of you have experienced that.
Do you think you have a hearing impairment?
If you suspect your hearing is getting a little worse, or you have a friend or family member who is suffering but hasn’t got around to doing anything about it, Hearing Awareness Week is the perfect time to take action. After all, it takes people an average of seven years from the time they think they have as hearing loss to the time they seek treatment, according to research from the USA.
If you answer ‘yes’ to some of the following questions, you may have hearing loss.
- Often ask people to repeat what they say?
- Have trouble hearing in groups?
- Think others mumble?
- Fail to hear someone talking from behind you?
- Turn up the volume on the TV or car radio?
- Have difficulty on the phone?
- Have trouble hearing your alarm clock?
- Have difficulty hearing at the movies?
- Dread going to noisy parties or restaurants?
Often, people will blame their hearing problems on the nature of the other person’s speech. For example, someone might say: “If people wouldn’t mumble, I could hear” or, “People spoke much clearer when I was younger.”
For children who are hard of hearing, denial is not the problem. Parents should be on the lookout for delayed or aberrant speech and language development, apparent inattention, and poor school work. This may be the result of the child simply not hearing with any sort of clarity. If you suspect or are concerned that your child may have a hearing loss, contact your community health centre or make an appointment with a paediatric audiologist to test your child’s hearing.
How to prevent hearing loss
Hearing loss is seen by most Australians as something that happens to our ears as we age. However, we are at greater risk of hearing loss than ever before due to our lifestyle choices. Our daily exposure to harmful noises such as cars, planes and other forms of machinery, has a direct impact on our ability to hear over time.
In Australia, noisy work environments are regulated so loud noise is kept to a minimum and hearing protection is readily available to employees where needed. Despite loud noise exposure being highly regulated in the workplace, young adults and teenagers are acquiring permanent noise-induced hearing loss through increased exposure to damaging noise from listening to live music and using portable devices such as iPods. As a result, Australians are acquiring hearing loss much earlier in life than previous generations.
Of particular concern is young people’s use of ear plugs or in-ears for their own private binge hearing sessions on a daily basis. Tiny hair cells in the ear are damaged when assaulted by loud noise. Once those hair cells are destroyed they cannot be replaced. Repeated and lengthy exposure to loud sound – whether it is music or a jackhammer – will eventually produce a sensori-neural hearing loss.
Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common in our society and it is completely preventable. How? By becoming more aware of the sounds and volume you are listening to and for how long. As a general rule, the higher the sound’s volume, the greater the chance it’s damaging your hearing – especially if exposure occurs over a long period of time.
Concerned parents should begin to monitor use of personal listening devices by their children. A good rule of thumb is that if the child is wearing ear plugs and the parent is able to hear the sound when standing next to them, then the music is too loud.
Remember, your ears can be your warning system for potentially dangerous noises. The noise is too loud when:
- You have to raise your voice to be understood by someone standing nearby.
- The noise hurts your ears.
- You develop a buzzing or ringing sound in your ears, even temporarily (indicates some hair cells have died).
- You don’t hear as well as you normally do until several hours after you get away from the noise.
There are three ways to protect yourself when around loud noise – block the noise by wearing earplugs or earmuffs, avoid the noise (put your hands over your ears if you can’t walk away), or turn down the volume.
The ability to hear is precious so don’t take this gift for granted. Do all you can to keep your hearing in tip top condition and address any problems now. Hearing Awareness Week is a reminder to us all to take positive action.