Hearing loss can occur from birth (congenital hearing loss) and up to 12 in 10, 000 children may develop a degree of loss through accident or illness or other causes (acquired hearing loss) before the age of 17 years. This group will later include those who have developed hearing loss during noise exposure or the ageing process and accounts for the largest percentage of people with a hearing loss in Australia.
At some point, most people will need some assistance to help with this loss, as it is a significant contributor to personal communication difficulties, which will affect personal relationships, work capacity and may lead to isolation and withdrawal from social situations.
How your ears work
The outer ear includes the pinna – which is the part attached to the head that catches the sound waves and directs them into the ear canal. Sound is transmitted to the ear drum via the ear canal, where, in an air-filled space behind the eardrum, three small bones (the ossicles) vibrate with the sound waves, which increases the conduction of sound to the inner ear.
Also in the middle ear is the Eustachian Tube which allows fluid drainage to the throat and the air pressure change that is needed in this space for equalising the ears.
The Inner ear houses the balance organ (the vestibular system) and the hearing organ (the cochlea) and each part of the system has a particular function.
If any part of the auditory system is affected by disease or obstruction (such as middle ear fluid) hearing loss or balance disorders can happen and may be temporary or permanent.
Signs of Hearing Loss
- the need to ask for repeats
- straining to hear the conversation
- TV or radio is louder than other listeners would like
- more difficulty hearing when background noise is present
- more difficulty understanding speech on the telephone
Medical symptoms of hearing loss include:
- fullness in the ears: difficulty clearing the ears when flying or when changing altitude
- balance problems – the feeling of spinning and you may also experience nausea
- tinnitus: noises in the ears- may be ringing, buzzing, humming or pulsatile (rhythmic like your heartbeat)
Effects of Hearing Loss
The effects of developing a hearing loss can include social isolation and anxiety, as well as fatigue. Typically the harder you are trying to listen and not hear, the more tired you will become from making the effort. People often report greater tiredness when listening with a hearing loss.
Another unfortunate effect of hearing loss is how others will treat the hearing impaired person, as it can be difficult for an observer to understand why the listener doesn’t “get it” – their listening behaviours can often be misinterpreted as aloofness or ignoring the speaker, when in fact, the person didn’t hear what was being said. This can lead to misunderstandings and the assumption that the hearing impaired person is not listening or interested.