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A number of times over the last few years I have been asked whether we provided a hearing service, and I am delighted to have found The Hearing Care Partnership. They are focussed on patient care, so fit in really well with my beliefs and ways of working.

I was chatting to Elaine, the specialist audiologist, recently and I was amazed at how much audiology and hearing aids involved. It was really interesting to appreciate the different ways in which hearing can be damaged, I had no idea that there were so many different causes of hearing loss and also the effect that hearing loss can have on everyday life.

The conversation came about whilst I was having a hearing test recently. I have been wearing hearing aids for a number of years and I believed that a lot of my hearing problems arose from going to rock concerts in my youth. I clearly remember more than once coming out after spending an evening listening to bands, getting in the car and only knowing that the engine has started by the fact that the ignition light went out! I had to watch the speedometer to work out when to change gear because I couldn’t hear the engine at all. I’m not sure how that would go down nowadays!

Apparently noise induced hearing loss is one of the most common causes of hearing problems in the world. If you spend time in noisy environments either at work, or in your leisure time, you are likely to develop a hearing loss. One of the things that surprised me is that this doesn’t have to be excessively loud noise such as in factories, engine rooms, working with heavy machinery or power tools. Noise induced hearing loss is a regular concern for other workers such as hairdressers, dental nurses, or bar staff, which came as a suprise to me.

Obviously some jobs and hobbies require you to hear well, if you are working with people at all the need to be able to hear them clearly and easily is very important.

For most of us hearing loss happens gradually and progressively over time, I was surprised to find that there are also two different broad types of hearing loss, sensorineural and conductive.

Sensorineuralhearing loss (also known as SNHL) is the most common form of hearing loss, accounting for around 90% of cases. Sensorineural hearing loss can be managed, but not cured.

It is caused by damage to the cochlea hair cells that absorb sound vibration, or by problems with the vestibulocochlear nerve, which transmits sound and balance information to the brain. The symptoms of SNHL are, amongst others, difficulty in picking out speech against noisy backgrounds and difficulty understanding speech on the telephone. Certain sounds are too loud and you can have trouble hearing certain speech sounds, including the  ‘f’, ‘th’, ‘s’, and ‘ch’ sounds. This can cause difficulty in detecting the source or direction of a sound at times.

With the noise-induced hearing loss long-term exposure to loud noises can irrevocably damage the hair cells inside your ears which are quite delicate, as has happened to me

As you would expect, the dreaded aging process is the most common cause of hearing loss. The hair cells within the inner naturally degrade over time, typically from the age of 40 onwards, I was told that 40% of over-50s experience some hearing loss. By the age of 80, many people face very significant hearing loss.

Viral infections (such as mumps, measles or rubella) can damage the ear, causing permanent or temporary hearing loss, and diseases such as meningitis and encephalitis can also cause hearing damage. Some head injuries apparently can also cause problems with hearing.

With the conductive hearing problem, what happens is that something blocks or partially obstruct sound waves from entering the ear. In many cases conductive hearing loss can be treated, although sadly some conditions can be permanent. The symptoms of this can vary from mild hearing loss to significant pain in the ear:

Sounds seem faint or muffled. and low, bassy frequencies are harder to discern. Young children may have difficulty understanding speech or responding to prompts. Some conductive hearing loss conditions can be painful, as I have mentioned.

This hearing loss can be caused by something as simple as too much earwax in your ear or an object trapped in the ear. Sometimes more serious reasons may be the case, a perforated eardrum for example, infection or swelling in the ear which creates a blockage. If you do have a perforated eardrum, where your eardrum has a hole in it, you will certainly notice! Not only will a loss in your hearing occur, but you will also experience symptoms including itching, pain or fluid leaking from your ear. I was pleased to find out that, more often than not, ear drums will repair themselves in a matter of weeks. However, your doctor or audiologist may recommend certain treatments or medications to help the healing process, so it is vital that it isn’t ignored.

I was very surprised to find out that hearing loss will affect one in six of us by the time we reach 60, which means that there are over nine million people living with hearing loss in the UK today. What makes this even more of a problem Is that this can happen so gradually that you really don’t even notice it yourself. Often the first people to notice are our family and our friends. However they are often to considerate to mention it to us, and so the problem grows.

We all have sensory hair cells in our ears which detect sound waves before then transmitting them through nerves for our brain to interpret as sound. When these cells become damaged they can’t repair themselves. As we age, the lifetime of wear and tear to these hair cells will contribute to hearing problems. What seems to happen is that when the part of the brain concentration that we use in hearing processing switches off if it doesn’t get the proper information and stimulation. Once this has happened it is very difficult, if not impossible, to make the hearing perception start working properly again. Elaine explained to me by having some form of hearing aid early on in the process we are able to interpret the sounds much better, thus preventing the brain cognition switching off and losing the ability to interpret sounds and speech.

Our lifestyle choices can affect our long-term hearing, whether this is the love of having the headphones a little too loud, or a career in high-volume environments, all this can all take its toll over time and gradually impair the health of our ears by damaging those hair cells that capture and transmit sound.

I certainly wasn’t aware that in certain doses, some medications can affect your hearing. Everything from high doses of aspirin to some antibiotics can give you vertigo, tinnitus or can result in the sudden loss of your hearing. These side effects normally disappear once you stop your medication, but if you are concerned about any side effects from your medication you are taking, it is important to chat with your GP.

One of the things that I found most interesting while chatting to Elaine Is the condition called tinnitus. I did not realise that it affects 10% of people in the UK.

Tinnitus is the name for any sound we can hear that has no external source and can be quiet or loud, high or low sounds, and can range from ringing, hissing, buzzing, tingling, to snippets of musical sounds. Tinnitus doesn’t always affect hearing, but it is often indicative of hearing loss. Fortunately, a great deal can be done to help.

Tinnitus can begin at any age and is often left untreated for prolonged periods of time because of the common belief that nothing can be done to help alleviate tinnitus or its associated symptoms.

Its causes aren’t yet fully understood but the symptoms can be triggered by many things including hearing loss, other conditions of the ear, loud noises, other medical conditions and certain medications.

It is interesting that whilst there is no single known cure for tinnitus, hearing aids have been proven to help reduce the symptoms. The majority of people with tinnitus will also be suffering from some degree of hearing loss; the aim of hearing aids is to reduce the impact of hearing loss for these people, which in turn can help to relieve their tinnitus.

The evidence suggests that hearing aids help a person’s brain to receive more natural stimulation from the sounds and conversation going on around them which helps to provide a masking effect for the tinnitus, allowing the hearing aid wearer to hear what they are supposed to be hearing rather than the ringing or buzzing sensation that they are used to.

I hope, like me, that you’ll find this interesting. It has certainly made me realise how much more there is to audiology than just hearing aids. It seems, like everything else, that more goes on in the background than is obvious on the surface.

If you would like to pop in and see Elaine she will be delighted to see you. Just give the practice a ring and chat to Cathy, Lindsay, Carole or Mo and they will be delighted to arrange it for you