5.3% of the world's population is affected by the disabling effects of hearing loss. It is an invisible handicap. Some have congenital hearing loss, while others acquire it later in life.
Fortunately,there are medical/surgical and/or assistive devices (hearing aids) to aid them. As per World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, one-third of those above the age of 65 years acquire hearing loss known as Sensorineural hearing loss. This occurs when there is damage to the inner ear (cochlea), or to the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain. Most of the time, sensorineural hearing loss cannot be medically or surgically corrected. This is the most common type of permanent hearing loss.
Hearing loss will reduce a person's ability to comprehend speech. Greater the loss,larger is its impact upon speech comprehension. Hearing loss can be conductive or sensorineural based on which part of the ear is affected.
In conductive hearing loss, the outer or middle ear does not conduct sounds well as it should, causing a loss of sensitivity for hearing soft sounds. Conductive hearing loss could be caused by impacted wax in the ear canal, perforated eardrum due to an injury or middle ear infection.
The fragile inner ear is subject to infection by a variety of viruses including mumps, measles or any illness accompanied by very high fever resulting in sensorineural hearing loss. Certain drugs that areototoxic also cause sensorineural hearing loss. It is nothing but reduced sensitivity to soft sounds as well as difficulty in distinguishing one sound from another.
The causes mentioned here are only a few, but the list is exhaustive.
The degree of hearing loss can range from mild to severe/profound hearing loss. Even mild hearing loss can isolate hard of hearing people from the mainstream culture and severely restrict their social lives.
Symptoms of hearing loss:
- Avoiding communicative situations
- Saying you understood something when you did not
- Refusing to admit you have a hearing loss
- Expressing anger through outbursts
- Continually talking so that you do not have to listen
- Saying "Never mind, it's not important"
- Simply nodding your head for everything spoken infront of you
- People who mumble and speak too soft
- Experience of a ringing sound in the ears
- Often asking people to repeat what they say
- Complaints that you play the TV too loud
- Difficulty in understanding a conversation in a large group
- Struggling with localization of the sounds
- Having been told that you speak too loudly
Denial is an initial reaction, Projection is the second reaction i.e., blame someone else. The next step is anger, misdirected,at the person in closest proximity. Depression may follow resulting in self-imposed aloofness.
Treatment measures for hearing loss are: medication, in cases of infection causing conductive hearing loss; surgery to correct the outer ear, middle ear bones and eardrum problems, and hearing aids; makes some sounds louder so that a person with hearing loss can listen and communicate.
Hearing aids are the effective therapeutic device for 90% of the hard of hearing people. Only 10% of hearing loss can be corrected medically or surgically. Properly fitted and used, hearing aids are able to enhance the quality of life of hard of hearing people.
Hearing aids are highly sophisticated devices, reflecting a blend of advances in computers, communication and electronic technology, with added features and development appearing at a rapidly increasing rate. A number of programmable and digital hearing aids are currently in the market, arriving every year.
The first step the hearing-impaired person should take is to ensure that he or she has the proper hearing aids and that they are properly adjusted to one's hearing loss. This requires consultation with an audiologist. The hearing-impaired person should not hesitate to ask questions regarding the relative effectiveness of different aids and adjustments. The manipulation of conversational situations is also necessary.
People with a hearing loss have a lot of difficulty in understanding speech in noisy situations. The right kind of thing to do in this situation is to ask that the background sounds be reduced e.g. the radio does not have to be on when one is talking to another person in the car. At public performances, they can ask for seats up front / directly in line and close to the loudspeaker. In other types of public performances, they should arrive early and select the most appropriate seats, which would ordinarily be up front. In these situations,changing seats to determine whether another location is better is perfectly appropriate.
It is always good for the speaker to ensure that the hearing-impaired listener can see his / her face during a conversation. People with hearing loss may not even realize it, but they are speech reading to some extent as long as they can seethe other person's lips move. The person who communicates should make sure that they do not inadvertently cover their lips. Conversations can be moved to quieter sections. In any type of situation, the closer the speaker and listener are, the easier it will be to hear.
Ways to Prevent Hearing Loss
Deafness and being deaf may not be in our hands, but if we take care and see to the issues of the ears before it is too late, it can be prevented or reversed in a number of cases. The health of the mother during pregnancy should be given adequate consideration so as to have a healthy and fit baby. Similarly in any case of ear problem or pain, the doctor should be consulted very soon to make sure that is not something serious.
Taking care and consulting an Otolaryngologist or Audiologist while having medicines that are proven bad for the ear can help to reduce medicine related deafness. In the same way staying away from too much sound or wearing ear defenders when in noisy environment can also help in preventing the problem. Hearing loss imposes some adjustments in life; some easier to cope with than others. Try to recognize it, admit your problem and seek medical help at the first indication of hardness of hearing.
There’s help available...all you have to do is ask for it!