Audiology Centres Becoming Increasingly Important in South Africa

Defined as the study of hearing and balance and the disorders that may affect these abilities, audiology is a branch of medical science whose importance in South Africa has grown considerably. While it is commonly believed that aging is the most common reason for any significant deterioration of hearing, actually, this is not the case. While there can be a varying tendency to auditory impairment in some aging subjects it is not a general phenomenon and, more often, the condition is due to prolonged exposure to excessively loud noise.

On the factory floor, underground in the mines, when working at a busy airport or in many other industrial occupations, the ambient noise levels can be unbelievably high. Despite the fact that most workers are able, in time, to develop the ability to isolate themselves from such sounds this does not eliminate or even reduce the physical damage that will inevitably result from repeated exposure.

Fortunately, greater awareness of the attendant risks together with stringent revisions to the country’s laws governing health and safety in the workplace have led to important improvements.  Today, those who are required to operate in this type of environment must now be issued, by their employers, with suitably effective, protection. While this was a condition that affected mainly working adults, certain urban cultural trends have seen a huge increase in hearing loss among the nation’s young people.

During the course of the last decade, discotheques at which DJs pound out the decibels, car stereos, Ghetto blasters and, most recently, iPods have succeeded in creating more demand for audiology services in South Africa than industry and airports combined. Modern portable devices for playing music such as mobile phones and iPods no longer use the earlier, large style of headphones. Instead, they come equipped with earpieces that are actually placed in the ear, sealing off all external sounds and allowing no other route for the music but along the ear canal. While they result in a more immersive experience for the listener, it is equally clear that they are also far more damaging to one’s hearing. In the US, recent statistics suggest that as many as 1 in 8 of all children aged between 6 and 19 now have permanent hearing damage resulting from exposure to excessive noise.

There are many other reasons for impaired hearing. These include infections, allergies, and the use of certain medications and, fortunately, damage from such causes are seldom permanent when treated promptly. Consequently, early examination by a specialised practitioner is always advisable where there may be reason to suspect even a slight loss of auditory function. The Ear Institute operates 19 centres in towns and cities across the republic, including one in neighbouring Namibia. Each is furnished with the latest diagnostic equipment and staffed by highly trained professionals, skilled in the detection of auditory disorders.

Following a preliminary examination of the ear, at which point infections are often discovered and patients referred to a physician or ENT specialist, audiometric procedures are also conducted. These are designed to measure the degree of impairment present with a view to determining appropriate corrective action. Such actions range from supplying a suitable hearing aid to referral for cochlear implantation – all part of the professional audiology services in South Africa.

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