Hearing Loss and Its Effects

Understanding the Nature of Hearing Loss and Its Possible Effects

Of the five senses, the ability to hear, to see, and to smell have probably been those most important in enabling the evolution of the human race. Today, in the age of supermarket butcheries, the ability to track animals by their scent when hunting them for food is no longer of value, so accordingly, man’s olfactory sense is no longer as acute as that of the animals he once hunted. However, in the predominantly audio-visual society we now find ourselves, both sight and hearing are, if anything, even more essential, and the loss of either can have troubling effects.

Historically, as people became more aware of deafness, either in themselves or in others, the condition was often seen as reflecting a lack of intellect, especially where apparent speech impediments resulting from impaired audition may also have been present. As a result, many of those affected felt that their condition now carried a degree of stigma, which made them reluctant to socialise, other than with members of their immediate families. In later years, with the development of simple acoustic devices designed to assist them, rather than admitting to any loss of acuity, many simply refused to seek help for their hearing loss and instead, chose to continue enduring its effects.

Although totally unfounded, such feelings persisted until well beyond the middle of the twentieth century when, with the technology to produce assisted hearing devices of steadily decreasing dimensions, those requiring such assistance began to overcome their embarrassment and to prioritise their personal needs over the misguided beliefs of others.

Hearing Loss and Its EffectsWhile it may be true that technology has helped to overcome the psychological consequences of hearing loss to a large extent, certain of its other effects still needed to be addressed. For example, the developers of modern aids, though producing more comfortable and compact products, have taken a while to adapt them to the changing demands of the modern environment. For example, while hearing individuals were operating mobile phones and making Skype calls, until recently, the available electronic aids were unable to interact with other digital devices. This has since changed, as have the lives of those who can now enjoy products that are able to connect with cellphones, DAB radios, flat-screen TVs, iPods, and other digital devices while allowing users to switch remotely and seamlessly between connections.

Dealing with hearing loss and its effects is not simply a matter of developing technology to assist people in overcoming their embarrassment or gaining the freedom to become a participating member of the digital community, however. One of the more common side effects of auditory impairment is the annoying sensation of ringing in the ears known as subjective tinnitus. The condition is believed to be a secondary consequence arising from varying degrees of damage to the delicate hair cells that line the inner walls of the cochlea, in the middle ear. This is known to result in sensorineural deafness, a condition that is commonly caused by repeated, prolonged exposure to loud noise.

Often, in cases of hearing loss where one of its effects is tinnitus, it may require no more than the sound enrichment provided by a modern hearing aid to mask the annoying ringing, whistling, or buzzing sound completely and thus relieve the wearer of the distress and distraction that is frequently associated with these phantom sounds. In other cases, however, the use of an assisted hearing device may successfully improve audition but fail to combat the symptoms of tinnitus. If this is the case, there are a number of possible ways in which to help those in this category to cope with the intrusive sounds. These include, counselling, coping techniques, and the use of white noise to mask the tinnitus.

It is, however, in infants and children that hearing loss and its effects tend to have the most profound consequences. Unless the signs of auditory impairment are recognised early and acted upon promptly, there is every chance that the loss of audition will impede a child’s natural development. Far too often, it is only the failure to attain developmental milestones such as speech that first alerts parents to the problem. If not treated, it is highly likely to interfere with both the academic and social development of the child. It is therefore especially important for parents to keep an eye open for signs of auditory impairment, such as the failure to respond to loud noises or the sound of their voices.
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