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When hearing is damaged, the sounds of life begin to fade. For most people this is a gradual process. Typically the sounds in the higher frequencies begin to disappear first. Birds chirping in the trees become fainter and fainter. Music becomes less clear.
Since the lower frequencies are usually heard better or even normally, it isn’t unusual for people to think that there is no problem. It’s easy to forget what things sounded like before. Especially since many of the softer sounds are things we often tend to tune out anyway.
As the hearing loss worsens, the sounds necessary for understanding speech begin to be affected. Soft high frequency consonants are no longer heard and it becomes difficult to reliably distinguish one sound from another. At this point, it may become obvious that you can hear but you can’t always understand what is said, especially when there is background noise. You need to turn the T V volume louder than before. It seems like people mumble sometimes but other times, you understand perfectly. It is natural to think that the problem must be because other people are not speaking clearly, when in fact, it is your hearing that is not clear. Because people can’t see or understand your hearing loss, they may think you are just being unsociable. The comment “He can hear perfectly when he wants to” is a common complaint from family and friends of a hearing impaired person. The gradual nature of most hearing loss makes it easy to ignore until it begins to have a major impact on your life. If the loss were to happen overnight, the difference would be dramatic and you would quickly seek help to find out what was the matter.
So what causes people to lose their hearing? As you can see from the previous description, the ear is quite complicated. A problem with any part of the system can cause a loss of hearing. The medical profession defines two main categories of hearing loss.
Conductive hearing loss is caused by any problem in the outer or middle ear that interferes with the transmission of sound. This interference can be caused by such things as a large build-up of earwax, infections or growths in the outer ear, holes in the eardrum, a disease called otosclerosis (which causes the tiny bones to become fixed and unable to vibrate) or genetic factors. Conductive hearing loss can often be corrected or improved with medical intervention but when that is not possible, hearing instruments can usually help.
Sensorineural hearing loss is the term used to describe problems in the inner ear, either in the cochlea, hearing nerve or auditory pathway (often called nerve deafness). This type of hearing loss can be caused by many things but the most common cause is deterioration of the hair cells in the cochlea due to aging and/or exposure to loud sounds. 90 % of all hearing losses are the sensorineural type. This kind of problem can rarely be helped medically but fortunately hearing instruments can help. A third type of hearing loss is called mixed hearing loss and is simply a combination of conductive and sensorineural problems. Many people with mixed hearing loss are also able to benefit from hearing instruments.
To understand hearing loss, you must first know a little about how the ear works. The human ear is a remarkably complex sound analyzing system, capable of detecting sounds over an incredibly wide range of intensity and frequency.
We usually describe the ear in three main sections: the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. The outer ear serves as a sound collector. Sound vibrations cause movement of the eardrum which is connected to a chain of three tiny bones in the middle ear. The middle ear system serves to intensify the energy of the sound vibrations and delivers them to the cochlea in the inner ear. The cochlea is the actual organ of hearing. Inside the cochlea are thousands of hair-like cells that are connected to fibers of the hearing nerve. These hair cells are sensitive to different frequencies and intensities of sound.
Sound vibrations entering the cochlea cause the hair cells to generate electrochemical signals which travel through the hearing nerve to the brain where they are recognized as sounds.
A person with normal hearing can hear everything from the faintest whisper of the breeze to the roaring of a jet engine taking off. Normal hearing alerts us to dangers – our ears can give us information about the location and speed of an approaching car, for instance. With good hearing we are able to listen selectively, focusing on one conversation at a loud party and shifting easily to another conversation without missing a word. We are able to appreciate the beauty of a string quartet and the sound of a loved one’s voice.
Chances are, you will be the last to know. Most hearing loss happens so gradually that you may not notice it until it becomes a big problem.
The people around you will notice it first. You may have to ask people to repeat themselves, especially if there is any background noise. You may make mistakes and need to turn up the T V louder than before. You may fail to hear the doorbell, the telephone and/or warning signals.
As the hearing loss worsens, you may find yourself straining to hear conversations and becoming tired from the effort required to listen. Over time, you may find yourself avoiding social situations and losing interest in activities that you once enjoyed.
Approximately 500 million people worldwide suffer from hearing loss. Although nearly 20 % of persons between the ages of 65 and 74 have a significant hearing loss, it may surprise you to learn that the population of hearing-impaired people is getting younger and younger, largely due to excessive noise exposure. A recent survey by the Better Hearing Institute in the US found that 14.6 percent of baby boomers (ages 41 – 59) have a hearing problem and 7.4 percent of Generation Xers (ages 29 – 40) already have hearing loss.
Hearing loss has been called the invisible handicap yet the impact on quality of life can be profound. A study by the NCOA (National Council on Aging) in the US revealed the following: Hearing impaired persons with untreated hearing loss report increased feelings of depression and anxiety, increased paranoia and social phobias, more anger and frustration, increased introversion and feelings of self criticism. They also report decreased overall health, decreased social activity, and even decreased earning power.
Fortunately, the situation can be greatly improved for most people with hearing loss. The same study revealed that persons with treated hearing loss (through hearing aids and/or medical treatment) report better family relationships, higher self-esteem, improved mental health, greater feelings of independence and security, better overall health and increased social activity.
1 Get the attention of the hearing impaired person before you start speaking.
If they are “ready” to communicate, they are less likely to miss anything.
2 Don’t shout.
Speak in a clear, projected voice but not too loud. Enunciate clearly but do not overemphasize your words.
3 Don’t talk too fast or too slow.
Many people with hearing loss understand better when speech is just slightly slower than normal, but not too slow!
4 Make sure your face can be clearly seen.
Lighting should be adequate and there should be nothing covering your mouth or face. Many sounds of speech are visible on the lips and can provide important extra clues.
5 Don’t talk when the water is running.
Background noises can make understanding very difficult. Turn off sources of noise before having a conversation or move to a quieter area, if possible.
6 Don’t talk to someone from the next room.
Distance from the listener is important. The further away you are, the less of a chance that you will be heard. Make sure you are in the same room and close enough to be easily heard and seen.
7 Rephrase rather than repeat.
When someone asks you to repeat, it may be more helpful if you rephrase what you said. Sometimes different words will be easier to understand.
8 Be on the lookout for misunderstandings.
Ask questions from time to time to make sure that the person has understood what you have said.
9 Relax and be patient.
People with hearing loss often feel a great amount of stress as they concentrate to understand every word that is said. A kind facial expression and an accepting attitude can help a hearing impaired person relax and enjoy the conversation.
10 Encourage the person to try a hearing instrument.
105-7315 Edmonds St., Burnaby, BC, V3N 1A7
Mon -Fri 8-7 | Sat 9-2 | Sun 9-1
We are inside the Edmonds Pharmacy on Kingsway and Edmonds. Free underground parking is available at the back, entering from Arcola st.
Northview Compounding Pharmacy & Hearing
120-1100 Lonsdale Ave., North Vancouver, BC V7M 2H3
Tel 604.904.9992 | Fax 604.904.0222
Mon-Thurs 8-6 | Fri 8-5 | Sat 9-2
We are inside the Northview Compounding Pharmacy on Lonsdale & 11th Street, next to the Trevor Linden Gym. Free underground parking is at the back of the building off 11th Street.
100-8120 Cook Rd, Richmond, BC V6Y 1T9
Tel 604 278 9601
Mon-Fri 9:30-6 | Sat 9:30-3 | Sun 12-2
We are inside Mccue Pharmacy at No3 and Cook Rd located 1 block south of Brighouse sky train station. Free reserved parking on side of building.