Did You Check Your Hearing? Do You Hear Me?

World Hearing Day falls on 3 March

It all began in 2007 when the First International Conference on Prevention and Rehabilitation of Hearing Impairment was held in Beijing which was well attended by audiologists, otolaryngologists, deaf educators and social activists.  The conference witnessed an important declaration - the declaration of the International Ear Care Day.

It was unpredictable in that year that this declaration would eventually have the great impact that it later had,  on global hearing health care. It was at this conference that a proposal was put forward to make it a day to raise awareness and promote hearing care. With the intention of offering a memorable mnemonic device,  the conference organizers aptly chose March 3 (i.e., 3-3) as the annual date for this because of the resemblance of the numbers 3-3 to a pair of our ears.

A few years later, the then Technical Director of the Prevention of Deafness and Blindness Programme of the World Health Organization (WHO), Shelly Chadha, PhD, noticed an immense lack of hearing health care awareness among policymakers at a global level and sought ways to gather data for the WHO.  It was intended to provide a consistent internal message about hearing health.  Following this, the WHO launched the International Ear Care Day in 2014.  This became World Hearing Day in 2016 which was observed on March 3.

The annual themes for the World Hearing Day were the following since 2014:

2014: Ear care can avoid hearing loss

2015: Make listening safe

2016: Childhood hearing loss: act now, here is how!

2017: Action for hearing loss: make a sound investment.

2018: Hear the future.

The theme of this year, 2019, is 'Check Your Hearing'

Studies indicate that around 360 million people in the world suffer from disabling hearing loss.  When it comes to India, it is substantially high.  As per World Health Organization (WHO), in 2012, prevalence of hearing loss in south Asia is around 48% for adults above 65 years of age.  State-wise, Kerala has the maximum proportion of elderly individuals in its population, several of them with hearing difficulties. They need proper advice and adequate assistance to make their lives more comfortable.  Only in recent years has the Department of Audiology come up in several places.

As a human being crosses his/her sixth decade, he or she tends to face certain changes in his/her body.  Likewise hearing is something which tends to deteriorate with aging. Usually people, who feel that they do not have hearing loss, tend to have it.  Most often, it goes unnoticed until an unfavourable situation occurs.

Age-related hearing loss occurs on both the ears, almost equally. Since the deterioration in hearing is often gradual, you may not notice that you have lost some of your ability to hear.

Causes for such a loss are plenty.  Most often it arises due to age-related changes in our inner ear or middle ear or more complex changes along the nerve from ear to brain.  Others include side effects of certain medication or working in highly noisy environment.

There are some early indications of age-related hearing loss. During the initial stages, you may have difficulty in understanding words.  You would be able to detect the sound but not extract the words from it.  You may often have to ask for repetitions.  This will be more evident when there is high background noise.  From then, you would start to speak in louder voice than normal without being aware. Other indications include a ringing sensation in the ear, also called Tinnitus, the inability to hear high pitched sounds.  If you observe at least one of these indicators, it is necessary that you consult an otolaryngologist and an audiologist for a proper diagnosis and rehabilitation.

It is necessary that people become aware about hearing loss.  In life, when people get older and crosses the age of 50, they tend to have reduction in their hearing capabilities. And it can be aggravated due to high traffic noise, working in noisy environment, side effects of certain medications or treatments or certain illness. So be aware of the subtle amount of change in your hearing. Observe the minute changes. Whether it is inability to understand telephonic conversations or to hear your spouse, who is speaking from a noisy environment like a restaurant, never neglect it, get a good consultation instead.

This is not a life-threatening disease.  But if left untreated,  it may have a significant impact on your quality of living.  Is it possible to prevent hearing loss? Currently, no such research data are available on complete cure in age-related deafness. However some preventive measures could limit the amount of hearing you might lose as you age such as the use of ear-protective devices like ear-plugs to safeguard your hearing from extreme noise levels, limiting the amount of time engaged in noise activities and getting a regular hearing check-up.

Since a lot of advancements have occurred in this field, there are a lot of rehabilitation facilities for hearing impairment too.  You don’t have to worry about it. Centres offering services for those who have hearing loss are aplenty and you can visit your nearby ENT specialist or anaAudiologist for an accurate advice. They will look into your problem and provide you with utmost care and treatment for a better tomorrow.

(The author works as Audiologist and Speech Language Pathologist at Government Medical College, Calicut)

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