We are bound to be affected by hearing problems at some point in our lives. Ranging from mild hearing problems to profound deafness, the spectrum is quite large and the causes very different. So, how are your ears?
Detecting hearing problems at birth
Six out of every thousand babies born in Canada suffer from hearing problems, and one of them, from profound deafness. Yet, parents are typically unaware of their newborn’s predicament. In fact, Canada trails behind Europe and the United States, where 34 states have adopted a legislation ensuring all babies undergo a hearing test at birth. Although hearing impairment in little ones can be detected easily, it is estimated that only 10% of Canadian hospitals have some type of program focusing on the hearing abilities of newborns. As early detection begets early intervention, it can prevent delayed development in children.
The hearing test for newborns only takes a few minutes and is entirely gentle and inoffensive. It is typically done when the baby is asleep.
Unfortunately, hearing problems are rarely detected before the age of three. That is well beyond the critical period when children develop language and social skills. Yet viable solutions do exist! For example, it is perfectly safe for a child as young as three months old to wear a hearing aid. These apparatus can facilitate the development of language skills.
Can my child hear me?
Just as the height and weight of a baby increases on a daily basis, so does his or her ability to communicate. Parents play a critical role in the screening of hearing deficiencies in children. Before the age of one, a baby should react to noises that are close and progressively be able to identify the origin of sounds. Normally, a child also begins repeating the sounds made by his or her parents. Around the age of two, a toddler should be able to respond to simple instructions like handing over a particular toy when asked. Even though physicians evaluate children’s hearing abilities during regular follow-ups, parents are great at observing and noticing changes in their offsprings: if you have any doubts, you must speak with your child’s paediatrician.
Is my child progressing?
Hearing problems in children can be detected based on certain clues. Therefore, we should worry about a child if he or she: - Often asks “what!”; - Complains of ear aches; - Speaks too softly or too loudly; - Excessively increases the volume of the television; - Does not show any progress in language skills or has slow or laborious elocution; - Has difficulty pinpointing the origin of sounds.
Teenagers and noise
Teenagers and young adults generally like noisy ambiances: iPod on high, dance clubs, concerts, etc. According to the data from a British Columbia study, 30% of young adults entering the workforce today already suffer from some type of hearing deficiency because of overexposure to noise. This is no laughing matter! It is important we increase teenagers’ awareness to the dangers of noise overexposure to protect their hearing.
For example, digital audio players at their maximum volume can produce sounds of over 100 decibels, which is much higher than the threshold of hearing damage of 85 decibels. Warning! It is therefore recommended that these devices be used for a maximum of one hour per day and at only 60% of their volume capacity to protect the ears.
Fans of rock concerts and dance clubs should be aware that the noise level in those venues, often at 115 to 120 decibels, can damage their hearing in just a few minutes. To prevent damage, it is suggested we wear ear plugs. If teenagers do not think them cool, they should be reminded that popular musicians like the members of the heavy metal band Metallica actually wear them. It is also recommended we stand far away from speakers and get out every half hour to give our ears a break.
If your teenager hears buzzing in his or her ears after a noisy event, it is a sign of overexposure and possible ear damage. If this persists for more than two days, you must see a physician.
Bees buzzing in my ears!
Do you know what tinnitus is? People who suffer from it, that is approximately 60,000 Quebeckers, hear ringing, buzzing, roaring, whistling, humming, hissing, chirping, clicking or jingling noises in their ears. Whooshing that sounds like wind or waves is also common. It can sometimes be caused by a sudden or intense noise, like an explosion, or exposure to excessive noises for a long period of time. Although it usually is temporary and mild for most people, tinnitus can become a permanent nightmare for some. Tinnitus can accompany other ear or dizziness problems as well.
If you suffer from bothersome tinnitus, the first step is to speak with your family physician to eliminate the possibility of other physical problems. Your doctor will likely refer you to an Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist (ENT) who will perform tests to determine if there may be other underlying causes.
The condition can sometimes be treated with medical treatments or surgery. Tinnitus can also be treated with small instruments such as hearing devices that emit a continuous soft noise that masks the noise from tinnitus, and auditory re-training or medication.
Is my hearing still sharp?
As people age, the accumulation of noise exposure and other factors can lead to hearing damage or even to deafness.
Gradual hearing loss often goes unnoticed. Yet, it is the most frequent sensorial deficiency for the elderly: it affects more than 30% of people aged 65 and over. It is an important problem because it not only affects the sense of hearing but also the general wellbeing of seniors. Hearing loss causes communication problems and often leads people to isolate themselves from family and friends and to abandon social activities.
Most people do not know they have a hearing problem. This may be the case with someone close to you, or perhaps even yourself. Here are a few telltale signs: - A person often asks you to repeat yourself; - Inadequately answers questions; - Is often distracted in group activities; - Fixes upon your face when you speak; - Does not answer when their back is turned; - Does not hear the doorbell or the telephone; - Increases the volume of the television or radio excessively.
Hearing problems: who should you speak with?
You think you might be hard of hearing? Speak with your family physician first. Sometimes, simple things like ear wax build-up can cause a hearing problem. If need be, your physician may refer you to an audiologist. This professional will perform a complete examination to determine the type and degree of hearing loss, as well as the treatment or hearing aid best suited for you. Your physician may also refer you to an Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist (ENT).
If you do not hear well, do not isolate yourself! Thousands of people improved their quality of life by using hearing aids that increase the volume of sounds. These apparatus are much more sophisticated than they were in the past and emit clear and comfortable sounds while being aesthetically discrete. You should know that certain hearing aids are reimbursed by the Régie de l’assurance-maladie du Québec. If you have purchased a hearing aid and are not satisfied with the results, do not hesitate to go back for an adjustment.
Not only does denying you have a hearing problem not solve anything, it prevents you from enjoying life to the fullest. Do not let hearing problems fall on deaf ears and seek help from a professional!