How good is your hearing?

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Sylvia Richards of West Coast Hearing in Vredenburg.
Sylvia Richards of West Coast Hearing in Vredenburg.

Ear and hearing care for all is the theme for World Hearing Day 2023.

World Hearing Day was observed Friday, 3 March and Weslander spoke to local expert Sylvia Richards, BA Speech and Hearing Therapy about how to keep ears happy and healthy.

“According to the World Report on Hearing, there are many challenges facing ear and hearing care,” Richards explains.

“A challenge I often see in the practice is incorrect information and stigmatisation of hearing loss. Untreated hearing loss can impact speech and language development, psychosocial development, communication, cognition, education, employment, mental heath, and interpersonal relationships including families and partners.”

As a member of the Reconnect Audiology Network, Richards and her team participate in nationwide screening initiatives. These screenings help detect the risks babies, children, and adults may have for hearing loss.

Richards says new-born babies and infants are part the especially high risk populations. Risk factors included being premature babies, babies who are in the neonatal intensive care unit for more than 10 days, have low birthweight, or have any condition of the blood or circulatory system.

“The earlier hearing loss is detected the better the outcome for the individual. Hearing loss can be screened at all ages of life,” she assures.

This is because hearing problems are not limited to folks working on noisy sites, the elderly or music lovers listening to too much heavy metal.

Parents worried about delays in their child’s speech or language development should think about having their hearing tested. She explains impacted wax, foreign bodies in the ear, and chronic ear infections are often detected in school screenings.

Screenings should ideally be conducted at pre-school, grade 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, and 11. Meningitis and other virus or bacteria that can also cause hearing loss. “If a child’s teacher is concerned about the hearing rather have a test to be sure,” Richards says. “If you think your child’s speech or language is delayed then rather get the ears tested. If you think your child is ignoring you, rather get the ears tested.”

She explains adults are at greater risk of hearing loss. Richards says adults are exposed to noise that can be occupational, recreational, and environmental. Factors like ototoxic medications such as gentamicin, and harmful work environment chemicals can also have an effect on hearing.

“Some chemotherapy drugs can impact on hearing as well and if you are receiving treatment should have your hearing monitored. Nutritional deficiencies, especially vitamin A, zinc, and iron can also impact your hearing. Chronic diseases such as blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and smokers are at greater risk for hearing loss.”

As with children wax can also cause hearing loss in adults.

External factors like trauma to the head and hear can is another risk for adults Richards says. “Viral infections and other disease like Ménière’s disease – an inner ear problem that can cause dizzy spells, also called vertigo, and hearing loss – and vestibular schwannoma (a rare type of tumour that forms in the nervous system), and autoimmune diseases can cause a hearing loss,” she explains.

Often people don’t even realise they have hearing loss because of a lack of pain and the onset is gradual, Richards says.

The Global Burden of Disease estimates that 65% of the global population over 60-year-old experiences some degree of hearing loss. Folks who don’t necessarily realise they have hearing loss may find they can’t hear others talking behind them, may find more people are “mumbling” or find it difficult to follow group conversations.

“There may be a constant buzzing, static, humming sound in the ear or head,” Richards says.

Much like all health conditions hearing loss is individual. Richards says one therapy that may work for one but not another for various reasons.

She explained this is why the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a patient centered care approach to hearing loss treatment.

The best way to care for your ears and hearing is through immunisations, good maternal and childcare practices, genetic counselling, early identification and management of common ear conditions, and protecting your hearing from noise such as shooting, music and occupational noise, Richards urged.

“Once a hearing loss is identified, the sooner you address the management the better the outcomes for the individual. Rehabilitation can be medical, use of technology including hearing aids, cochlear implants, and middle ear implants.

“Assistive listening devices such as personal FM systems, shake awake alarm clocks, or even headsets that connect to the television can be used. Rehabilitative therapy and include aural rehabilitation to develop communication and linguistic skills can also help,” she says.. To find an audiologist visit the website of the South African Audiology Association (www.audiologysa.co.za), Reconnect Audiology Network (www.reconnectaudiologynetwork.co.za) or contact West Coast Hearing (www.westcoasthearing.co.za).

Also, you can access free hearing screening on www.westcoasthearing.co.za.

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