According to global estimates, 6.1% of the world’s population lives with hearing loss. A Mediclinic audiologist reveals more about this debilitating condition and how it’s treated.

A person is classified as having hearing loss if they’re unable to hear as well as someone with normal hearing, in other words, a hearing threshold of 20dB or better in both ears, according to the World Health Organization. The problem can be mild, moderate, moderately severe, severe or profound, and can affect one or both ears. Dr Natalie Buttress, an audiologist (hearing specialist) at Mediclinic Durbanville, explains the causes and treatment of hearing loss.

So, if you or a family member are referred to an audiologist, what can you expect? Dr Buttress explains that her job is to understand the common causes of hearing loss and how to treat it. More than that, audiologists are caring specialists in hearing and balance, she adds. They’re there to support patients, parents and loved ones through the entire journey from identification of hearing loss to finding solutions that help the patient live their best quality of life.

“We employ a patient-centred approach that allows the person and their family to be an integral part of the decision-making team. Every person is different and it’s important to consider their unique needs in order to address the way that hearing loss affects their life,” she says.

It’s important to consult an audiologist as soon as possible if you’re experiencing signs of hearing loss.

Causes and treatments

Dr Buttress cites several common reasons for hearing loss and how these can be treated:

  • Age related – assessment and hearing aids are beneficial.
  • Noise exposure – noise protection is very important to prevent this type of hearing loss in the first place or to avoid further damage. Hearing aids are also useful if the damage has already been done.
  • Genetic – this can be either congenital (at birth), or another type of disorder or process that affects hearing later in life. Treatment is specific to the type of hearing loss that occurs. Some hearing loss can be medically or surgically treated, and some require hearing aids. It’s critical to have an assessment with an audiologist who’ll assess whether the problem is treatable or whether an adjustment of incoming sound is required to compensate for the hearing loss.
  • Infection – many infections that affect the ear itself will cause hearing loss, and some other infections or disease processes can also affect hearing, e.g., diabetes.
  • Ototoxic medication – medications used to treat certain conditions, e.g., tuberculosis, can be toxic to the ear, and affect both hearing and balance. “It’s important to be closely monitored by an audiologist if you’re on an ototoxic medication,” says Dr Buttress.  

Impact on learning

While hearing loss can occur at the ear, which prevents some sounds from entering the auditory pathway, Dr Buttress says it’s important to note it’s the brain that performs the task of understanding sound. “There’s increasing scientific evidence showing that children who don’t hear well don’t learn speech and language well, have problems with reading and spelling, and don’t progress easily through school,” she explains. For this reason, it’s crucial to have your child’s hearing checked early if you suspect a problem.

“Adults who lose hearing and remain untreated demonstrate a significantly higher risk for cognitive decline and memory problems later in life. Quality of life is significantly affected when one of the primary senses is impaired, specifically because of the loss of skills at the level of the brain.

“The nervous system reorganises itself in response to hearing loss. Therefore, early intervention is extremely important and somebody with hearing loss should be seen by an audiologist as early as possible.”  

5 signs you might be losing your hearing

  1. Having difficulty understanding speech in complex sound environments, such as in restaurants, lectures, or other noisy places, is one of the first signs of hearing loss.
  2. Feeling as if people are mumbling or having to ask them to repeat themselves regularly.
  3. Finding television too soft or unclear.
  4. Mishearing, and as a result, regularly misinterpreting what people are saying.
  5. Hearing ringing in your ears and experiencing sudden or gradual hearing loss are good reasons to see an audiologist.

Start typing and press Enter to search