All Ears For Hearing Awareness Week & World Hearing Day
In the same way you care for the rest of your health including getting your eyesight tested and heart and blood pressure levels monitored regularly, it is important to take care of your hearing health. Because there is a lot more riding on it than just your hearing. Hearing loss is the second most common health condition experienced by Australians – more prevalent than asthma, heart disease, cancer, or diabetes – and is projected to increase to 1 in every 4 Australians by 2050. The number of Australians who are hearing impaired or deaf is increasing because of long-term exposure to excessive noise in the workplace, the environment, and a result of an ageing population.
Hearing Awareness Week (which commenced Sunday 25th February) and World Hearing Day (set for this Saturday March 3rd) are two global initiatives which aim to increase awareness of and educate people about the issues relating to hearing loss, which are many and varied.
Untreated Hearing Loss: The Health Risks
Untreated hearing loss has been documented to result in a range of negative physiological effects including increased speech comprehension difficulties, auditory deprivation, and brain atrophy (linked to cognitive decline). Hearing loss can also increase risk factors for a number of acute health conditions including diabetes, stroke, elevated blood pressure, heart attack, psychiatric disorder (particularly for those who rate their hearing as “poor”) and affective mood disorders.
Numerous studies have linked untreated hearing loss to:
- Diminished psychological and overall health
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s
- Irritability, negativism and anger
- Headaches and tension
- Reduced alertness
- Inability to focus and retain information
- Impaired memory
- Impaired ability to learn new tasks
Untreated Hearing Loss: The Impact on Mental Health & Quality of Life
People with hearing loss experience greater impacts on mental health and overall quality of life than the general population. This includes lower self-esteem, and increased incidence of sadness, depression, anxiety, insecurity, irritability, and loneliness, as well as increased stress and fatigue. The negative effect on mental health may arise through the negative impact of hearing loss on interpersonal communication (which is central to a person’s health and well‐being), and through increased social isolation.
For children with hearing loss, even a mild or moderate case of hearing loss could cause learning difficulties, issues with speech development, and problems building the important interpersonal skills necessary to foster self-esteem and succeed in school and life.
Untreated Hearing Loss: The Social Effects
Untreated hearing loss can result in harmful social impacts that go far beyond the hearing impairment itself. These include issues with work performance and relations, and difficulties with family relationships and friendships that could potentially lead to social withdrawal, avoidance of social events, and eventually social rejection and loneliness.
In light of these negative associations, it is clear that taking care of your hearing health is something that should be taken very seriously indeed. The good news is that new and more effective treatments for hearing loss are now available, thanks to advances in health care and medicine. Treating a hearing loss has been associated with improvements in self-confidence, relationships, social life, and physical and mental health.
Types of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can occur as a result of problems at any stage of the hearing pathway, and at any age. A comprehensive audiological evaluation should be undertaken in order to determine the type and severity of hearing loss, and to make appropriate recommendations for treatment.
There are four types of hearing loss: conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, mixed hearing loss and central hearing impairment.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound is not conducted efficiently through the outer and middle ears, including the ear canal, eardrum, and the small bones, or ossicles, of the middle ear. Conductive hearing loss usually involves a reduction in sound level, or the ability to hear soft sounds.
Presence of fluid in the ear associated with colds, allergies, and ear infections (i.e., otitis media), or a poorly functioning Eustachian tube are common causes of conductive hearing loss. Other causes include excessive earwax in the ear canal, perforation of the eardrum, or damaged or defective ossicles.
Approximately 10% of all hearing losses are conductive, which can range from mild to moderate in severity. Conductive hearing loss can often be medically or surgically treated, and in many cases, hearing can be restored.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Hearing loss that originates in the inner ear is referred to as sensorineural hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss not only involves a reduction in sound level, or ability to hear soft sounds, but also affects the ability to hear and understand speech clearly.
This type of hearing loss can occur in one of two ways: firstly, when the delicate hair cells in the inner ear are damaged and become unable to convert sound vibrations into the electrical signals required by the auditory nerve, and secondly, when nerve pathways in the auditory nerve itself become damaged, preventing the signals from reaching the brain.
A sensorineural hearing loss can be of any degree – mild, moderate, severe, or profound, and most often occurs from genetic factors (i.e., hearing loss can run in families), excessive noise exposure, or presbycusis (i.e., hearing loss caused by changes in the inner ear due to aging).
Other causes of sensorineural hearing loss include:
- Ear-toxic medications
- Auditory nerve tumours
- Congenital or acquired infections such as meningitis and mumps
- Kidney disease
- Vascular disease
Approximately 90% of all hearing losses are sensorineural, which is a permanent loss that cannot be corrected medically or surgically. In more than 95% of cases of sensorineural hearing loss, hearing aids or cochlear implants are the recommended course of treatment.
Mixed Hearing Loss
Sometimes a sensorineural hearing loss may occur in combination with a conductive hearing loss. In other words, there may be damage in the outer or middle ear, as well as the inner ear or auditory nerve. If this happens, the hearing loss is referred to as a mixed hearing loss. An example of a mixed hearing loss may be someone with inner ear hair cell damage due to aging who at the same time has infected fluid in the middle ear due to an upper respiratory infection.
Central Hearing Impairment
Central hearing impairment occurs when the auditory centres of the brain are affected by injury, tumour, disease, heredity, or other unknown causes. Central hearing impairment does not necessarily involve hearing loss, although it may. Central hearing impairment involves issues with auditory discrimination, sound localisation, auditory pattern recognition, the temporal aspects of sounds, and the ability to deal with degraded and competing acoustic signals.
How to tell if you have a hearing loss
Most cases of hearing loss develop slowly over time, as a natural part of ageing or the product of a long period of exposure to loud noise. Because of the gradual nature of the problem many people with mild to moderate hearing loss are actually unaware they have an issue, believing that certain lifestyle choices or behavioural adjustments are ‘the norm’ for them, for example avoiding social situations. People can become so used to having hearing loss that they forget how things sound and start living in a quieter world, without even realising what they are missing out on or how their quality of life is being affected. Often family or friends are the first to recognise the problem.
If you suspect that you or a loved one may be experiencing hearing loss, early detection is important.
TYPICAL SYMPTOMS OF HEARING LOSS:
- A perception that people mumble a lot and don’t speak clearly.
- Hearing someone speak but difficulty understanding some of the words.
- Frequently asking people to speak up or repeat themselves.
- Having to watch a speaker’s lips closely to follow the conversation.
- Difficulty understanding women and children’s voices (or other high frequency sounds).
- Difficulty hearing someone call from behind or from another room.
- Difficulty hearing clearly on the telephone.
- Difficulty hearing at the theatre or other entertainment venues.
- Difficulty hearing in noisy environments, for example in a restaurant or in a car.
- Difficulty following a conversation when in a group of people, in a meeting, at church, or during lectures.
- Difficulty understanding words or voices in a crowd.
- Turning the TV or radio up to an uncomfortably high level.
- Favouring one ear over the other.
- Limiting social activities due to difficulty hearing and communicating.
- Acting withdrawn, isolated, depressed or irritable.
SYMPTOMS THAT INDICATE A LARGER AUDIOLOGICAL PROBLEM:
- A sudden hearing loss in one or both ears.
- Acute or chronic vertigo, dizziness, or imbalance.
- A ringing or buzzing in the ears (i.e., tinnitus).
- A fullness or pressure in the ears.
- A speech/language delay in children.
To get ahead of the game, the best course of action is to take a baseline hearing test and annual follow-up hearing tests to help identify and treat any hearing issues early.
Free Hearing Screening Promotion
The purpose of a hearing assessment is to determine not only if you have a hearing loss, but how mild or severe it is. A thorough hearing evaluation can also help define the type of hearing loss you have (i.e., conductive, sensorineural or mixed) and whether it will respond best to medical treatment (i.e., a Cochlear implant), or hearing aids. A comprehensive hearing evaluation is a painless, non-invasive, quick and inexpensive process, typically taking 30 – 45 minutes for most adults.
During your visit the audiologist will run a series of tests and examinations using professional equipment. Once you have completed the series of hearing tests your audiologist will present you with a thorough explanation of your test results, including your audiogram. If a hearing loss has been identified, your options will be discussed including whether you require further testing, any medical or surgical referrals or treatments, and if hearing aids are recommended, the type and style that would be suitable to your individual circumstances.
In addition, you may be given more information regarding your specific needs; whether it’s how to protect your hearing if you’re exposed to noise on a regular basis, or strategies for improved understanding in difficult listening environments. You’ll be referred to a physician for evaluation and treatment if an underlying medical condition is suspected. In most cases of hearing loss, (including more than 95% of sensorineural hearing losses), hearing aids or cochlear implants are the treatment of choice.
As part of Hearing Awareness Week 2018, Ear & Hearing Australia are offering free hearing screenings for pensioners, veterans and seniors.* If you or your loved one would benefit from this offer please book an appointment now. We provide hearing tests at all of our conveniently located clinics and our dedicated team of qualified audiologists has amassed years of experience, guaranteeing a professional, friendly and dependable service you can trust.
*Fees may apply if proceed to audiological assessments.