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About Hearing Loss

Let's talk about Hearing Loss

Whilst it’s true that hearing loss is more and more prevalent and easy to address, and less and less a stigma, it does, undoubtedly, affect quality of life just as profoundly as sight loss – and no one would dream of not having their sight corrected.

Nor is hearing loss a condition that you are naturally safe from until you get older – especially in today’s increasingly noisy world. For example, anyone who listens to music through headphones or earphones, or who attends live music events without hearing protection, is potentially at risk of damaging their hearing. Any musician – rock or classical – who does not wear hearing protection, is placing their hearing in jeopardy. As is a DIY enthusiast who exposes their ears to the sound of drills and other machinery in the confines of their home. Or anyone who regularly uses a hairdryer. Or a frequent flyer – cabin crew or passenger.

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The risks are all around us, and we do not notice the onset of hearing loss because the brain gradually becomes accustomed to the weakened signals coming from outside. This disruption, if overlooked, causes the brain to ‘forget’ how to hear at the previous level, and the subdued level of hearing becomes the new ‘normal’. This, and the stigma that is associated with hearing loss, is why, on average, it takes from five to seven years for people with hearing loss to seek help. As for the often talked about stigma of hearing loss, it is more the stigma of wearing a hearing aid that people are worried about, because it is associated with being old. But anyone who still thinks that wearing a hearing aid has a stigma attached to it has obviously not checked out what has happened to hearing aid technology recently – with in-ear canal technology, and phone syncing, you can control what you hear, listen to your music, take calls, enhance your hearing beyond normal levels – or even ‘mute’ yourself, and switch off from the outside world!

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Recognising Hearing Loss

  • You happen not to hear the doorbell or the phone
  • You find yourself literally having to ‘lean in’ to conversations
  • You frequently have to turn up the volume on the television
  • You feel alienated from a group conversation – especially in noisy environments or social situations
  • You have difficulty hearing certain words in conversation, and/or the voices seem unclear

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, then it is advisable to get your hearing checked as soon as possible. This is especially the case because, if your hearing has been damaged, whilst that damage is probably permanent, there is so much that can be done nowadays by a specialist Audiologist with access to the latest hearing aid technology to enhance your hearing – if necessary, with hearing aids that are completely invisible to the outside world.

Hearing loss doesn't only affect the elderly. Besides age, in fact, there are many other causes that can provoke hearing loss.

Presbycusis: hearing loss is linked to the process of aging and is the most common cause of hearing loss. It begins in adulthood and becomes more apparent after 50 years.
Repeated exposure to loud noise: exposure to sounds high for a long time can damage the sensory cells of the ear. The result is a temporary hearing loss or tinnitus, i.e. a feeling of whistling or ringing in your ears. If exposure to noise is particularly intense, habitual or prolonged, this can cause permanent damage resulting in irreversible hearing loss.
Other factors: infections caused by bacteria and viruses (ear infections, Scarlet fever, meningitis).

Dealing With Hearing Loss

If not treated in a timely manner, hearing loss tends to deteriorate, negatively affecting your own quality of life and also the quality of life of those around you who will get frustrated by this new struggle to communicate with you – having to repeat themselves, and raise their voice with you. Moreover, numerous studies have shown that people who suffer from hearing disorders have a greater likelihood to develop symptoms of anxiety, sadness and even depression. Hearing loss and the consequent lack of brain stimulation is also linked to the onset of dementia and Alzheimers.

Better safe, than not to hear!

Fundamentally, yes, hearing loss does have some big and scary implications, but these can be prevented by addressing the hearing loss as early as possible. And rather than talking about the minority of instances where hearing loss has serious consequences, what we should be focusing on is how easy and common it is for hearing loss to diminish your quality of life. Because, in this day and age, quality of life is something that we all expect and value. And also because, in this day and age, it is so easy to do something about hearing loss.

About the Ear

The ear is the organ of hearing. The auditory system works very fast (at a rate of 20 milliseconds), which allow us to understand the sounds that surround us: the ear picks up ambient sounds and turns them into understandable nervous messages to the brain, the message is then interpreted and we identify what we mean. The hearing device is composed of three distinct parts, each of which has a different and complementary role: the outer ear, middle ear and the inner ear. All three form a complex, sensitive, and above all very fragile organ.

The outer ear consists of the external ear canal and eardrum. It captures and delivers the sound vibrations up to the latter. The outer ear also has a role in protecting against infection or foreign body penetrations (dust, etc.) through ear wax.

The middle ear is a cavity filled with air which contains the hammer, anvil, and stirrup. These form a chain of three small bones that amplifies and transmits the vibrations of the eardrum to the inner ear.

The inner ear is divided into two parts: the cochlea for hearing and the vestibule for balance. The cochlea contains the hearing cells, called hair cells, which when stimulated, will transmit the information to the brain via the auditory nerve. The sound is then decoded.

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