Ears to Your Health!


Hearing loss is generally associated with dear old grandpa, but as Carolyn Rattliff Reid points out, it’s the young who are now most at risk.

The startling assessment by the audiologist (a doctor who specialises in issues related to hearing), “Your son is profoundly deaf,” both answered—and raised—questions for Mr and Mrs Chorost.

While they had wondered why their three-year-old was ignoring them, the truth was that Michael could only hear them while sitting on their laps.

Michael had already started exhibiting some learning disabilities, so, in an earnest race against the childhood development clock, his determined parents immediately immersed him in a language learning program. They wanted to ensure that he developed the language skills that are essential for a strong academic future.

Mrs Chorost had contracted rubella early in her pregnancy and that had caused their son to be born with this severe hearing loss. This made him a prime candidate for a cochlear implant—a surgically implanted electronic device that partially restored his hearing.

Today, Michael is a writer and lectures frequently at universities, conferences and organisations for the deaf. Parental observation and intervention were the keys to his success.

Deaf By Technology

A 2006 report by Access Economics states that hearing loss costs Australia $12 billion a year, with almost 160,000 people not working because they can’t hear well enough.

Loss of hearing and its effects can be traumatic. Heredity and age-related causes are largely unpreventable. In addition, a variety of other factors may increase susceptibility to hearing loss, including side effects from certain medicines, head injuries, excessively loud noises and the present existence of hearing loss, which predisposes to further loss. Sadly, preventable hearing damage from these non-genetic causes does not receive the kind of attention that could result in a significant slowing of audial disabilities.

Studies warn that prolonged, repeated exposure to sounds louder than 85 decibels can cause irreparable hearing loss. In 2005, Tom Valeo, writing for WebMD, said, “Loud rock music contributed to hearing loss among baby boomers, but MP3 players are poised to make the problem much worse for the next generation.” And this was before the deluge of iPods, iPhones and smartphones.

The journal Hearing Review reported in 2007 that “the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) has produced and disseminated nationwide television and radio public service announcements about the importance of safeguarding one’s hearing when listening to [these technologies].

Five years later came more troubling news. A national survey revealed that one in five teenagers had suffered a hearing loss so serious the damage might be permanent. According to one report, the level of hearing loss among American teens has risen to a level that researchers have never seen before.

Who can afford to turn a deaf ear to the many alarms sounded by such speciality watchdog organisations? Unlike genetically determined and in utero injury, the suffering and damage experienced by these youth, called acoustic trauma or noise-induced hearing loss, is quite preventable: give your ears a break by reducing the volume.

Totally Addicted To Bass

Mary Florentine, an audiologist at Northeastern University, in Boston, USA, suspects that some young people actually have what she calls a loud music dependency disorder.

I asked people why they continued to expose themselves to loud music even though they knew it was harming their hearing, and they said they couldn’t stop listening. They said, ‘When I stop listening I get sad and depressed, and then I go back to it because I can’t take it after a while. I start listening again at moderate levels, but it doesn’t do anything for me, so I start to listen at high levels.’

Florentine and her colleagues adapted a test typically used in identifying alcohol dependency for her research. Eight of the 90 participants who answered the 32 questions had scores in the same range as substance abusers. Other researchers have shown that even slight hearing loss can affect learning, perception of speech, acquisition of social skills and self-image.

The damage to hearing caused by high-volume sound is determined by its duration, which includes sounds played even at a seemingly reasonable level. Note the word seemingly.

Newer stereo and personal listening devices with their prolonged battery life, unlike their predecessors, provide the option of continuous and nearly unlimited listening sessions, with loud sounds blaring directly into ear canals by way of earbuds and earphones. This greatly increases the risk of damaging the inner ear hair cells that transmit sound to the brain. These delicate hairs do not naturally regenerate once they’ve been destroyed.

The Real Cost Of Hearing Loss

Hearing devices, invented to perform complex functions, cannot match the marvellous model provided to us by our Creator God. Short of a miracle, once good hearing is lost, there’s simply no getting it back—no second chance.

If teens tune out to the health warnings, they will ultimately be responsible for any adverse outcomes and the consequent outlay of means for hearing aids and other support mechanisms. Have we considered the impact a hard-of-hearing generation would have on the nation and its posterity? But back it up a bit. Are the adults listening to the experts ourselves?

What protective measures do we use during exposure to noises such as lawnmowing, rock concerts and other loud household and recreational activities?

Audiologist Larry Higdon, former president of ASHA, says, “Permanent hearing loss can occur from prolonged or repeated exposure to . . . jet engines, lawnmowers, motorcycles, chainsaws, powerboats and personal stereos. Even a single exposure to a loud sound, like a gun shot, can cause immediate and permanent hearing loss.”

Workplace noise can be just as hazardous. Anyone who works around loud engines and other machinery needs to take special precautions to avoid hearing loss.

It’s worth repeating: loss of hearing and its effects can be traumatic.

Overall mental and physical health, employment and economic wellbeing, as well as communication and relationships, are affected. Any way you look at it, loss of good hearing is costly.

Turn It Down

  • You’ve been leaving your stereo or iPod volume too loud if:
  • Voices sound muffled when you’re only a metre away from people;
  • You can’t follow conver- sations in settings such as a restaurant, party or work;
  • Pain (rare) or ringing in your ears occurs after listening to loud sounds;
  • You have to shout to be heard;
  • People near you can hear sounds coming from the earphones you’re using;
  • Babies become dis- tressed, start crying and pulling on their ears.

Unfortunately, according to experts, by the time you’re aware of hearing loss, the damage may have already occurred. And, contrary to what some may believe, you don’t “toughen up” your ears by listening to more loud sounds

Preventative Strategies

Steadily increasing noise levels in our world may be an unwelcome part of our lives, but we need not succumb to its detrimental effects. Following are some things you can do to protect your hearing:

  • Get a hearing checkup by a certified audiologist.
  • Investigate even slight symptoms that occur between checkups.
  • Say No to noise by reducing or eliminating your exposure to it.
  • Carry earmuffs and earplugs for use in noisy areas.
  • Choose quiet places for living and leisure whenever possible.
  • Use sound-absorbing materials in your home and work areas.
  • Operate only one loud machine at a time.
  • Set electronics and machine volume levels to a moderate level.
  • Avoid trying to drown out unwanted noise with louder sounds.
  • Download a decibel meter app to monitor sound levels.
  • Maintain overall good health, especially of the upper respiratory system.
  • Appreciate—and pass on—the value of the pleasant, restorative benefits of plain silence.

Intricately designed, your ears contribute to your quality of life, but they don’t protect themselves. You must protect them.

10 Most At-Risk For Hearing Loss

  • Males
  • Farmers
  • War veterans
  • Elderly citizens
  • Accident victims
  • City dwellers
  • People using personal listening devices
  • Employees exposed to loud, noisy workplaces
  • Children with middle ear infection (otitis media)
  • Patients exposed to certain medications and chemicals
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