Believe it or not, hearing loss is surprisingly common with one in six people in the UK thought to experience symptoms at some point in their lives. This means that if it’s not happening to you, there’s a good chance you know someone who is suffering. Unfortunately, the early signs of hearing loss can often go unnoticed, which is why it’s essential to book a test and have your ears checked by a qualified audiologist. The early detection of hearing loss is critical to effective treatment, after all, and here’s why:
Early detection can prevent further damage
The ear is a marvellous if not rather fragile organ that must be treated with care. It’s made up of many complex parts, which, if damaged, can result in permanent deafness. Take the cochlea, for instance the tiny, snail-shaped structure of the inner ear that allows us to hear what’s going on around us. It’s lined with thousands of tiny nerves called ‘hair cells’ which are responsible for picking up different sounds and sending them to the brain where the sound is then heard and understood. If the cochlea is hurt say by extended noise exposure, certain powerful antibiotics, meningitis and such like the damage may be irreversible. More can be found about cochlear damage here.
The good news is, early detection can prevent someone from going completely deaf in one or both ears. If only a few of the ‘hair cells’ have been damaged, for example, the result may only be minimal hearing loss. In this case, the hair cells may still be there but may require more sound before they are able to do their job effectively in which case, hearing aids may be sufficient to amplify sound or make it loud enough to be heard.
Furthermore, if many hair cells have been damaged but the person is still able to make out various sounds, more powerful hearing aids might be appropriate. Auxiliary aids for moderate hearing loss are widely available and will help improve someone’s quality of life greatly even if sounds are distorted due to the severity of cochlear damage.
If hearing aids don’t do the trick, cochlear implants might also be appropriate as they replace the function of the hair cells by converting sound into electric pulses that are then relayed to the hearing nerve. This more advanced form of treatment should hopefully be a last resort, however, if hearing problems are reported and diagnosed promptly.
When hearing loss is detecting early, the audiologist can also offer lifestyle advice to the patient. If they work in a noisy environment, such as a building site or factory, suitable personal protective equipment might be recommended to help with noise exposure. Anything over 85 decibels can cause damage to the inner ear, so it’s important to take any advice seriously to prevent further problems down the line and reduce the need for more serious treatment.
As early detection of hearing loss is crucial to treatment, it’s important to keep a look out for your loved ones especially as they might not realise their hearing is impaired during the early stages. Symptoms of hearing loss include having the TV on loud, struggling to hear/join in conversations, asking people to repeat themselves, difficulty hearing the phone or doorbell and regularly feeling tired or stressed, so be aware and have your ears checked regularly.