HOW SHARP IS YOUR HEARING? EXPERT ADVICE ON HEARING LOSS
WE EXPECT OUR EYES TO CHANGE
WITH AGE BUT HEARING IS OFTEN IGNORED. VICTORIA LAMBERT ASKS PROFESSOR CHRIS RAINE, A CONSULTANT ENT SURGEON AT BRADFORD ROYAL INFIRMARY, FOR ADVICE
WHETHER IT’S FOR LISTENING TO ADELE, TRAFFIC NOISE, BIRDSONG – OR JUST A FRIEND’S VOICE,
WE’D ALL BE LOST WITHOUT
OUR HEARING. YET, AS WE AGE, IT CAN BE HARDER TO CATCH SOUNDS. AND ONCE WE REACH MIDLIFE, HEARING PROBLEMS
ARE INCREASINGLY LIKELY; 40% OF OVER FIFTIES HAVE SOME LEVEL OF PRESBYCUSIS, OR AGE-RELATED HEARING LOSS.
YET MOST OF US SHY AWAY FROM
HEARING TESTS. DEAFNESS HAS LONG CARRIED A STIGMA THANKS TO FEARS OF BEING
TREATED DIFFERENTLY. OLD-STYLE HEARING AIDS – LARGE AND UNSIGHTLY – HAVE A
LOT TO ANSWER FOR, BUT SO DO COMEDY PROGRAMMES, WHICH EQUATE DEAFNESS WITH BEING GRUMPY OR LESS INTELLIGENT.
MEANWHILE, THERE ARE PLENTY OF NEW WAYS TO PROTECT OUR HEARING, AND IF NECESSARY, SUPPORT OR ENHANCE IT,
FROM COCHLEAR IMPLANTS TO TINY DIGITAL HEARING AIDS. ON THE HORIZON, RESEARCH IS BEING CONDUCTED TO DISCOVER HOW TO REGROW THE HAIRS IN THE MIDDLE EAR WHERE DAMAGE TO HEARING OCCURS.
WHAT CAUSES HEARING LOSS?
High frequencies are typically affected first – think of “cocktail party deafness” when you struggle to follow conversations where there’s background noise. MOST COMMONLY LOSS OF HEARING IS DUE TO AGE-RELATED DAMAGE AFFECTING THE TINY INNER EAR HAIR CELLS WITHIN PART OF THE EAR CALLED THE COCHLEA, OR THE HEARING NERVE (OR BOTH), AND IS CALLED SENSORINEURAL HEARING LOSS. LESS COMMON INFECTIONS SUCH AS MEASLES, MUMPS, RUBELLA AND MENINGITIS CAN BE TO BLAME, OR A TRAUMATIC EVENT SUCH AS A CAR ACCIDENT OR A BLOW TO THE HEAD.
CERTAIN DRUGS SUCH AS TYPES OF CHEMOTHERAPY AND ANTIBIOTICS CALLED AMINOGLYCOSIDES ARE ALSO KNOWN TO DAMAGE THE HAIR CELLS. RESEARCHERS AT WASHINGTON STATE UNIVERSITY IN THE US HAVE DEVELOPED A DRUG CALLED DIHEXA, WHICH MAY BE ABLE TO PREVENT THE HAIR CELL LOSS CAUSED BY AMINOGLYCOSIDE TREATMENT AND ALL TOXIC MEDICATIONS.
Another type of hearing loss is called conductive – and it can be due to a blockage in the outer or middle ear, such as a build-up of excess ear wax or fluid from an ear infection. OTHER COMMON CAUSES ARE RUPTURED EARDRUMS OR CHRONIC INFECTIONS. SEVERE PROBLEMS MAY BE DUE TO OTOSCLEROSIS – ABNORMAL GROWTH OF BONE IN THE MIDDLE EAR, WHICH STOPS SOUND BEING TRANSMITTED INTO
THE INNER EAR. IN 2015, RESEARCHERS AT UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON (UCL) FOUND MUTATIONS IN A GENE CALLED SERPINF1 THAT MAY CAUSE OTOSCLEROSIS, OPENING UP THE POSSIBILITY OF NEW TREATMENTS.
WHEN EARWAX IS A PROBLEM
A plug of hard wax can result in a noticeable hearing loss. WHILE SOME PEOPLE SIMPLY PRODUCE MORE WAX THAN OTHERS, AS WE AGE WAX BECOMES DRIER AND IS MORE LIKELY TO COMPACT. TRY SODIUM BICARBONATE EAR DROPS FROM THE CHEMIST, OR A FEW >>
DROPS OF ROOM TEMPERATURE OLIVE OIL. IF WAX REMAINS AFTER THIS SOME GP SURGERIES OFFER EAR SYRINGING USING MODERN PULSED WATER JETS BUT YOU USUALLY HAVE TO SOFTEN THE WAX BY USING DROPS FOR UP TO THREE WEEKS BEFOREHAND.
CAN LOUD MUSIC REALLY HURT MY EARS?
Yes, overexposure to loud noise (whether you are in a band or an audience) is known to damage hearing. ENCOURAGE YOUNG PEOPLE TO WEAR EAR DEFENDERS IF THEY GO TO FESTIVALS AND GIGS. YOU
MAY ALREADY HAVE SUFFERED TEMPORARY HEARING LOSS AFTER GOING TO A CONCERT.
CAN I USE MOBILE IF I HAVE A HEARING AID?
Mobile phones generate radio frequency interference that may be picked up by a hearing aid (heard as a buzzing sound). YOU MAY NEED TO TRY A PHONE THAT’S COMPATIBLE WITH AN AID, OR WHICH AMPLIFIES THE CALLS (SO A HEARING AID CAN BE TURNED OFF), SUCH AS A T533 DORO LIBERTO 825 SMARTPHONE (£259.99).
COULD A COCHLEAR IMPLANT HELP?
If you struggle to hear a lawnmower, your hearing loss is above 90 decibels, and cochlear implants are suitable. these are surgically inserted hearing aids consisting of an external processor (which converts sound into an electrical signal) and an internal receiver, which is surgically implanted into the bone behind the ear, with electrodes inserted into the cochlea. these implants bypass the damaged inner ear hair cells, directly stimulating the hearing nerve.
Each implant costs about £18,000, with a 90-minute operation on the nhs. unfortunately, fewer than 5% of those who would be suitable are referred for assessment for an implant. if this might be for you, ask for a referral to your local audiology department.