Recognising and Dealing with Hearing Loss

There are few people of virtually any age that have not, on some occasion in their lifetimes, experienced hearing loss to some degree. There are plenty of possible explanations for this phenomenon and, in most of these cases, the effect is not a lasting one.

For instance, an excessive build-up of wax in the outer ear canal can interfere with the natural passage of sound waves to the tympanic membrane or eardrum. In such cases, increased volume will be required to produce a response. Similarly, the accumulation of fluid or pus within the middle ear and Eustachian tubes may result from allergies, catarrh, colds, flu or other infections, and this will also interfere with the normal process of sound conduction.

Who has not spent an evening at a rock concert, a discotheque or a firework display only to discover that, on departure, everything tends to sound muffled for quite a while after the event? This effect is known as acoustic shock and though recovery is usually spontaneous after an occasional and relatively short exposure, repeated and prolonged exposure to excessive levels of noise has become one of the most common causative agents implicated in the onset and gradual progression to severe, permanent hearing loss.

The risks have long been recognised by governments who have responded with legislation covering noise abatement in public places and safety measures for those working in noisy environments. As yet, however, no such constraints have been applied to recreational activities with the result that discos, boom boxes, car stereos and mobile devices with in-ear headphones have taken over where jack-hammers and jumbo jets left off. Though it may sound alarming it is hardly surprising that, in the United States, one in eight young people between the ages of 6 and 19 now have permanent auditory damage as a direct and verifiable consequence of such activities – a trend that is emerging in South Africa also.

The symptoms of hearing loss are not hard to detect but, commonly, sufferers are only spurred into action as a result of third party comments such as – “why do you need the TV so loud”, “why are you shouting” or “you keep asking me to repeat myself”. In practice, at the first sign of any problem, it is worthwhile consulting a professional.

You could start with your GP but a better idea may be to pay a visit to an audiologist at your nearest Ear Institute clinic.  If it’s just an infection, it will be spotted and treatment dispensed or a referral made. If not, the underlying cause, degree of impairment and the most appropriate corrective action offered to manage any confirmed hearing loss. 

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