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  • Writer's pictureWidex Emirates Hearing Care

Hearing Loss - Hearing Impairment Disability

Updated: Feb 18, 2023

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What to call people with hearing loss? Deaf? Hearing Impaired? Hard of Hearing?

The debate of what to call people facing hearing problems has erupted years ago and is still going on till now.

You sometimes hear the term “hearing impaired”. What exactly do we mean? At what level will hearing loss become a disability?

Hearing loss or hearing impairment is the partial or total inability to hear, detect and understand sounds. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 2.5 billion people are expected to suffer from hearing loss by 2050.

Since it is not restored, prevention is the best solution to preserve our hearing. There are many ways to help you stay connected with your loved ones, family and friends.

We will discuss the:

Categories of hearing impairment

We measure sound by its loudness, in decibels (dB) and by its frequency, in hertz (Hz). Hearing loss can be categorized depending on how much the person can hear the loud noises or the frequency accompanied with speech. According to Hearing Health Foundation: Degrees of Hearing Loss, we classify hearing impairment into:

  • Mild (25 to 40 dB): hard to hear sounds and understand words in crowded and noisy environments

  • Moderate (41 to 55 dB): hard to continue a conversation without the help of hearing aids

  • Moderate-severe (56 to 70 dB)

  • Severe (71 to 90 dB): using sign language or lip-reading to communicate, even when using hearing aids

  • Profound (more than 90 dB): cannot detect sound at all

A person is considered to have hearing loss if they cannot hear thresholds of 20dB or more in both ears.

It can be classified depending on which portion of our hearing system is impacted. There are many terms to describe the types of hearing loss, some of which are:

  • Sensorineural hearing Loss: when the inner ear’s hair cells and/or auditory nerves are damaged. This type, the most common one, is usually permanent.

  • Conductive hearing Loss: when the pathway for sound to reach the inner ear is blocked due to diseases or obstructions in the middle and outer ear. This type can be treatable; it is usually reduced through medicine or surgery.

  • Permanent hearing Loss: The inner ear and its auditory nerves are damaged.

  • Sudden hearing Loss

  • Acquired hearing loss: occurs after birth, due to injury or illness

  • Congenital hearing loss: starts at birth

  • Unilateral or Bilateral Hearing Loss: loss occurring on one side only (unilateral) or on both (bilateral)

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Hearing loss causes

It is caused by many risk factors. The most common are:

  • Heredity and family history, thus meaning genetics

  • Being exposed to noise and loud sounds (noise-induced hearing loss)

  1. Occupational noises such as concerts and music, mining, construction, farming, military, factories, carpentry

  2. Constant listening to loud music using headphones

  • Age – due to chronic diseases, smoking, otosclerosis (bone disease in the middle ear) and degeneration of ear structures over time

  • Diabetes, heart diseases, meningitis, and hypertension

  • Ototoxic chemicals and medications such as certain antibiotics, aspirin or chemotherapy drugs

  • Illness, viruses, infections or head injuries/traumas

  • Earwax in the ear canal building up

Hearing loss symptoms

Usually, the first few signs are hard to notice because they don’t happen at once but gradually and over a certain period of time. How can you know that you are losing your hearing? Many signs include:

  • Asking others to repeat their sentences slowly and loudly

  • Difficulty understanding words, especially in crowded places

  • Misunderstanding what others say

  • Turning the volume of the TV or radio higher than other people

  • Difficulty talking on the phone

  • Hearing the sounds of people as mumbling

  • Not being able to follow conversations when more than one person is talking

  • Missing doorbells or phone calls

  • Not being startled at loud noises or not turning towards the sound

  • Feeling tired after doing effort to hold on to a conversation

  • Not being sure where the source of sound is coming from

  • Avoiding social gatherings

  • Tinnitus or ringing in the ears

Hearing loss effects

Disabling hearing impairment has a huge effect on social, psychological, interpersonal and economic aspects. It changes the self-esteem of the person and the way they interact with their surroundings. Difficulty communicating with others lead to the examples below:

  • Feeling of depression and negativity: crying, weight changes, lack of sleep or change in sleeping patterns

  • Anger and fatigue: feeling physically exhausted from trying hard all day to concentrate and hear what others are saying

  • Muscle tension, upset stomach and anxiety

  • Denial and not accepting the current situation

  • Isolation from social gatherings due to stress and embarrassment their hearing loss

  • Drop in self-esteem

  • Relationship troubles

  • Less educational and job opportunities

Hearing Impairment Prevention

Many causes of hearing loss can be prevented through effective strategies, public health recommendations and healthy measures. Reducing hearing loss and protecting our ears can be implemented through:

  • Safe listening strategies:

  1. reducing the exposure of loud music and sounds in TV, music, radio, or toys

  2. using headphones, earphones, earmuffs or earplugs

  • Appropriate maternal and childcare practices (early intervention services to children and babies identified with hearing impairment

  • Occupational hearing awareness-using quieter machines, using effective and protective accessories, and isolating noise source

  • Proper use of medications that help prevent ototoxic hearing loss

  • Systematic hearing tests and examination at proper times to all ages including newborn babies and infants, adolescents, school-age children, teenagers, and old people. People exposed to noise at work are highly recommended to do regular checkups and visits more than others.

A call for action! Talk to your doctor or your audiologist if you suspect any hearing problem. You might encounter some changes that act as a red flag. Having sudden hearing loss in one or both ears, having earaches or any discharge coming out of the ear, or feeling your hearing is getting worse over the last days or weeks are all indications that you need to check your ears. They will ask list of questions and accordingly, they will perform a hearing test that will help identify your situation.

The treatment differs, depending on the type and severity of the hearing loss.

  • The most common suggestion is the use of hearing aids. They don’t cure hearing impairment or restore hearing, but they can help the sound to enter clearer and louder. You simply wear these machines in or behind your ear.

  • Cochlear implants, middle ear implants and other surgical implants are also an option. Surgery can improve the damage resulted in the hair cells of the ear.

  • Hearing assistive technology (loop systems, alerting devices, sign language interpretation, captioning devices, and frequency modulation)

  • Phone applications

  • Removing ear wax

  • Antibiotics (help clear up any hearing loss caused by infections)

  • Changing medications

We don’t recognize how much we rely on our ears until they stop functioning normally. Early diagnosis of hearing impairment is important. It leads to early intervention. The sooner you ask for help, the better your life will be!

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