Rula Lenska Health: Star on the ‘difficulty’ of hearing loss – ‘I pretended a lot’

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Lenska has starred as Claudia Colby on the popular ITV soap opera since 2009. After moving to the fictional high street as an old friend of Audrey Roberts (Sue Nicholls), the star reprized the role in 2016 before moving on again in 2020. Away from acting, the actress has spoken honestly about her struggles with hearing loss. Having ‘no idea’ how his hearing was so damaged in the first place, the star now relies on hearing aids in both ears to pursue his career and participate in everyday conversation .

In a past interview, Lenska said, “I have no idea even now how my hearing got so damaged. The best guess my specialist found is that about 20 years ago, when I was a very avid diver, I caught an ear infection that went almost unnoticed.

“It’s quite common among scuba divers because of the pressure deep diving puts on the inner ear canal.”

Hearing loss struck the actress at a relatively young age (in her fifties), and with no family history of the condition, Lenska was shocked when she began noticing its first symptoms.

She added: “There’s no history in my family but about 10 years ago it became clear to me that I really couldn’t hear everything that was going on around me, especially high-pitched sounds and in large gatherings where there was a lot of background noise.

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Hearing loss can occur for different reasons, some of which can be treated and some of which are permanent. Most often, hearing loss worsens over time as individuals age. This age-related hearing loss is known as presbycusis.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, one in three adults over the age of 65 has hearing loss. Due to the gradual change in hearing, some people do not realize this at first and do not notice the first symptoms.

This usually affects the ability to hear high-pitched noises such as a telephone ringing or a microwave beeping. The ability to hear low-pitched noises is usually unaffected.

The NHS also lists other common signs of hearing loss. These include:

  • Difficulty hearing others clearly and misunderstanding what they are saying, especially in noisy places
  • Ask people to repeat themselves
  • Listening to music or watching TV at a higher volume than other people need
  • Having trouble following a conversation
  • Feeling tired or stressed from having to concentrate while listening.

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What causes hearing loss?

The ear is made up of three main areas: the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. And when sound waves pass through the outer ear, they vibrate the eardrum. The eardrum and three small bones in the middle ear amplify vibrations as they travel to the inner ear.

Once in the inner ear, the vibrations travel through the fluid in a snail-like structure in the inner ear (cochlea). Attached to nerve cells in the cochlea, thousands of tiny hairs help translate sound vibrations into electrical signals that are transmitted to your brain. Your brain turns these signals into sounds.

However, over time and due to aging and exposure to loud noise, some of the nerve cell hairs are damaged or missing, which means electrical signals are not transmitted as efficiently to the brain.

For some, hearing loss can also occur due to earwax buildup, but this only affects one ear, and individuals will feel like their ear is blocked or itchy.

For older people with presbycusis, if the symptoms are ignored or untreated, they can get worse. That’s why it’s important to see a doctor, who can offer the best treatment, including: hearing aids, special training, certain medications, and surgery.

For Lenska, her hearing loss became more of a problem when it started interfering with her profession. She went on to say, “Obviously the actors speak clearly and on stage it’s really not a problem, everyone’s quiet and the script just runs its course.

“But when it came to rehearsals that so often took place in echoing halls, I often had great difficulty following what was going on. I sometimes confided in the director but I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t hear very well.

“There is a real stigma faced by deaf people, especially older women. With all the difficulties an actress faces once you’re past 40, that’s one more problem you don’t want to add to the list.

“So I did a lot of simulation. I smiled a lot and nodded and said ‘oh yeah’ to people, hoping I got away with it, but I was aware that I was only picking up one word on eight or nine. I got to the point where I knew I had to do something constructive and about seven years ago I finally decided to go for a hearing test.

After finally seeking help, Lenska admitted she had to try ‘lots of different types’ of hearing aids before she found the right one, but she would recommend anyone with hearing loss get a hearing test. as soon as possible.

Hearing aids will not make hearing perfect, but they will make sounds louder and clearer, reducing the impact of hearing loss on a person’s life. There are also different types of hearing aids which may suit some more than others, but GPs and industry professionals are on hand to answer any questions you may have.

The most common type is known as behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids. They consist of a small plastic device that sits behind your ear. This is attached with a tube to a piece of plastic that fits in your ear, or a soft tip that goes into your ear opening. Other types of hearing aids include:

  • Receiver in the Ear (RITE)
  • In the ear (ITE)
  • In the channel (ITC)
  • Completely in the channel (CIC) and invisible in the channel (IIC).
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