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January 2021 edition

Understanding hearing loss

Hearing loss affects many people around the world. According to the World Health Organisation, 360 million people worldwide suffer from disabling hearing loss, 32 million of whom are children.

Hearing loss affects your ability to hear and makes it more difficult for individuals to hear speech and other sounds.

Although hearing loss can result in partial or profound deafness, in many instances it can be prevented.

Causes of hearing loss

There are a number of causes of hearing loss other than age. These include:

  • Genetic: In some instances hearing loss is inherited
  • Illness: Certain illnesses such as measles, meningitis and mumps can cause damage to the auditory nerve, resulting in partial or complete hearing loss.
  • Neurological disorders: Strokes and neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis can also affect hearing.
  • Physical trauma: People who sustain head injuries often experience ringing in the ear (tinnitus), which is permanent in certain instances.
  • Noise: Noise causes almost half of all cases of hearing loss. Constant exposure to high noise levels can often lead to gradual hearing loss.

How to minimise hearing loss

  • Immunising children against diseases such as measles, meningitis, rubella and mumps.
  • Promoting and following healthy ear care practices
  • Reducing exposure to loud sounds.
  • Encouraging the use of protective devices such as earplugs and noise-cancelling earphones and headphones.
  • Referring high-risk infants for early hearing assessments to ensure prompt diagnosis and management.

Hearing loss often affects the person’s ability to communicate with others. In children with undetected hearing loss learning to speak is often delayed.

Not being able to communicate and interact normally has a huge effect on everyday life. This can result in feelings of loneliness, isolation and frustration.

Often, people with hearing loss are regarded as different and, in some instances, even mentally impaired, which can affect their confidence and self-esteem.

How to communicate with people with hearing loss

  • Establish a comfortable distance between you and the person.
  • Establish eye contact before initiating communication.
  • Wait your turn before signing or speaking.
  • Make sure your face is clearly visible.
  • Don’t stand with your back to the light.

Most people who develop hearing loss are able to learn lip-reading skills and sign language. However, when it comes to promoting greater inclusion for people with hearing loss there is still much to be done.

Information supplied by the Government Employees Medical Scheme.

Source: www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs300/en