It can be difficult to prioritize which is our most precious sense. The loss of everything can be devastating, writes Dr. Zak Uddin.
Hearing loss is increasing both in the UK and globally. Figures indicate that by 2050 the number of people with problematic hearing loss will have increased from 1 in 5 to 1 in 10. It can be assumed that some degree of hearing loss is inevitable as we age, but the condition affects those at all ages. , From birth.
The ear itself can be divided into three parts, outer, middle and inner. Sound is picked up by the outer ear and directed to the eardrum in the ear canal. It can be thought of as a speaker cone. It vibrates in response to sound. The middle ear is made up of three bones, which increase the strength of these vibrations. The vibrations then pass into the inner ear. Known as the cochlea, it resembles a snail’s shell. Filled with fluid, it contains thousands of tiny hair cells. As they move, they convert sound into electrical signals. The auditory nerve transmits these signals to the brain, where they are interpreted.
There are many causes of hearing loss. During pregnancy, maternal infection with rubella or cytomegalovirus can put the unborn child at risk. Recurrent ear infections in childhood can contribute to this. Parental smoking increases the risk of all childhood diseases, including hearing impairment. Some antibiotics are known to cause hearing loss. Untreated wax is now recognized as a problem. Thanks to public health campaigns, most are aware that repeated exposure to loud noises should be avoided. This can happen in the workplace or for recreational purposes, such as with loud music. The WHO estimates that one billion young people are at risk of permanent and preventable hearing loss due to unsafe listening. Cotton swabs can damage the delicate structures of the ear and should never be used to remove wax.
Hearing loss, no matter how severe, is more than just having difficulty in conversation or having to ask others to repeat themselves.
Described as a “hidden disease”, statistics show that sufferers are less likely to do well in both school and work. It is associated with much higher unemployment rates and several million lost working days each year.
Like any disability, reduced hearing and deafness are linked to increased levels of anxiety, depression and social isolation.
In the same way that cataracts are linked to a greater likelihood of dementia, the same has been observed in people with hearing loss. Although not proven as a direct cause, the more severe the hearing loss, the higher the incidence of dementia. It seems that signals from the outside world are essential for the maintenance of cognitive functions.
The World Health Organization estimates that 60% of hearing loss in both children and adults is preventable.
One of the most important aspects is to recognize hearing loss and act quickly.
Greater use of standard vaccines could reduce the number of babies born with hearing loss. Ear infections should not be ignored. If a child is having trouble hearing, whether at school or at home, a hearing test will quickly identify any problems.
Any sudden loss of hearing in one or both ears should be treated as a medical emergency, similar to loss of sight.
Yet the treatment of hearing loss is a rapidly growing field, from ever-smaller hearing aids to more powerful cochlear implants.
A very exciting recent development, led by researchers at the University of Manchester, is a test that can quickly show if a baby has the genetic susceptibility to deafness with the antibiotic gentamicin.
Gentamycin is a powerful antibiotic, used in the sickest cases, ideally within the first hour. However, about one in 500 babies has the gene that makes them vulnerable to deafness if given the antibiotic.
Previously, it took much longer to find out that a baby had the gene. The new test, a simple bedside swab, can give a result in 25 minutes, well before the ‘golden hour’.
It is estimated that this could save the hearing of 180 babies in England alone each year.
Deaf Awareness Week runs from May 2-8, 2022.
l Hearing loss is increasing both in the UK and globally
l Hearing loss, no matter how severe, is more than just difficulty in conversation or having to ask others to repeat themselves.
l Any sudden loss of hearing in one or both ears should be treated as a medical emergency, in the same way as loss of sight.