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The joy of hearing

Are you struggling with your hearing? Is it challenging to hear in background noise or in company of the loved ones? How can you improve and look after your hearing? Then read on…

Good hearing is very important to our everyday lives; however it is often taken for granted. Chatting with friends, enjoying music or a favourite programme on the TV – we do not think twice how much we enjoy it and how much we would miss it if we could no longer hearing these favourite sounds.

It’s only when our hearing starts to deteriorate do we realise how important and valuable good hearing is to our quality of life. Hearing loss can lead to problems with communication, which in turn can lead to irritation, frustration and even a feeling of isolation.

Hearing loss occurs for a variety of reasons, but the most common one is the deterioration of sensory “hair cells” in the hearing organ called the cochlea. These cells tend to “wear out” with time, although age is not the most important factor. Other contributing factors include noise exposure throughout life, general ear health and genetic predisposition to hearing loss. There are also several medical conditions that can cause ear and hearing problems, such as “glue ear”, different types of ear infections, viruses, and Meniere’s Disease.

People with “age-related” hearing loss, also know as presbycusis, tend to struggle to hear the softer high-pitched sounds, which are crucial to speech clarity. This is because the hearing loss typically affects our ability to hearing in the high-frequency range. This often means that the sounds are heard loudly enough, but the clarity is not there because we miss the sounds and cues of higher pitches. The brain is good at filling in the missing sounds to create the complete picture, but it sometimes gets it wrong which can cause embarrassing moments. Therefore, people with hearing loss tend to ask others to repeat themselves and struggle to hear in noise or in company. A good example is watching TV – often increasing the volume does not help, as it is the clarity that we want to increase and not the overall loudness.

It is mistakenly assumed that hearing loss affects only the elderly population. In our practice we see patients as young at 35 years old, with their hearing being affected by factors other than age. In our experience, the most common hearing loss cause in younger population is the repeat exposure to loud noises, such as music at the gigs, nightclubs and through earphones. Their profession may also have an adverse impact on their hearing, e.g. construction workers, factory workers and engineers. These days however this can be successfully abated by using custom and bespoke hearing protection products.

Often accompanying the “age-related” or the noise-induced hearing loss is tinnitus. It will be explained at more depth in a separate article, however we just wanted to give you a basic understanding of it. Tinnitus is very common – it is estimated that over 15% of the population suffer with it. It is often perceived as a ringing or buzzing sound, which can be continuous or intermittent. Initially, people think that the noise is coming from their boiler, or from outside of their house, but soon realise that it is heard in their ears. Occasionally, it can also originate from the top/middle of the head. The most common cause of tinnitus is damage to the “hair cells” in the cochlea that we have already mentioned earlier in this article. Essentially it is the same phenomenon that causes the most common type of hearing loss. This could be due to age, genes, or noise exposure. Tinnitus is not a “phantom noise” as most may think – it is a real physiological sound generated by our ears. When we have good hearing, we do not notice the tinnitus because of all the noises around us that mask it. As our hearing starts to deteriorate, we tend to pick up more of the internal body noises and one of them is the sound that we call tinnitus. Unfortunately, a lot of people are told that nothing can be done about it and they simply must live with it. This can lead to isolation and depression. At All Ears we disagree – we offer a range of therapies and tactics that can help you achieve a state where the tinnitus is no longer intrusive or dominant in your life. More will be discussed in the next article, but for more information please visit British Tinnitus Association | All you need to know (ringing ears).

There are several simple tactics that can help you improve your communication ability if you experience a degree of hearing loss. Despite a wide belief, making others aware of your hearing difficulty does not carry a stigma or put you at a disadvantage. On the contrary, most people are happy to accommodate your needs as they become more aware of them. Simply explaining to them that they need to get your attention and be in your view before speaking will help tremendously. They should also not shout, as this can only distort the speech and make the communication even harder.

Perhaps the most important of all communication tactics, is choosing a correct environment. There should be as little of background noise as possible, as noise tends to greatly reduce speech understanding, thus leading to difficulties hearing the conversation clearly. The same effect can occur is a hard-of-hearing person has to take part in meetings or at family gatherings, where there are multiple speakers. If they all speak at once, the clarity of speech is compromised, and it all becomes “mumbled”. This is also known as a “cocktail party” effect and is the most challenging hearing environment for people with any type of hearing loss. Finally, simply asking people to look at you and speak a little slower can significantly improve your speech understanding.

The good news is that modern hearing aids can help you restart your enjoyment of things that were once so important to you, by improving your hearing, communication, and quality of life. There is a wide choice of hearing aids available and the stigma of an “big beige hearing aid that constantly whistles” is in the distant past. We will discuss different types of hearing aids in our next blog article, but as a taster we would like to just say that we offer invisible and rechargeable hearing aids at our clinic. Most of our hearing aids are also Bluetooth compatible, meaning that you can connect them wirelessly to your phone of a computer and steam your favourite music or make hands-free phone calls. Most importantly, hearing aids can effectively alleviate the negative effects or tinnitus. Stay tuned for the next article…in the meantime, why not call us today to discuss available options.

Please call us on 01622 395 767, email info@all-ears.org.

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