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By Wayne Campbell
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) over 360 million people live with disabling hearing loss. The WHO adds that more than one billion people aged 12-35 years are at risk of hearing loss because of recreational noise exposure. Over 60 per cent of these can be identified and addressed at the primary level of care.
A person is said to have hearing loss if they cannot hear as well as someone with normal hearing, meaning hearing thresholds of 20 dB or better in both ears. It can be mild, moderate, moderately severe, severe or profound, and can affect one or both ears.
Major causes of hearing loss include congenital or early onset childhood hearing loss, chronic middle ear infections, noise-induced hearing loss, age-related hearing loss, and ototoxic drugs that damage the inner ear.
The impacts of hearing loss are broad and can be profound. They include a loss of the ability to communicate with others, delayed language development in children, which can lead to social isolation, loneliness and frustration, particularly among older people with hearing loss.
Many areas lack sufficient accommodations for hearing loss, which affect academic performance and options for employment. Children with hearing loss and deafness in developing countries rarely receive any schooling. WHO estimates that unaddressed hearing loss costs the global economy US$980 billion annually due to health sector costs (excluding the cost of hearing devices), costs of educational support, loss of productivity and societal costs.
Every year on March 3, World Hearing Day is observed to encourage ear and hearing care worldwide and to increase awareness of ways to avoid deafness and hearing loss. The WHO chooses the theme each year and creates evidence-based advocacy materials, including presentations, booklets, flyers, posters, banners, and posters.
The theme for this year is Ear and hearing care for all! The WHO argues that the necessity of including ear and hearing care in routine medical treatment is highlighted by this year’s World Hearing Day theme. It is critical that we pay attention to our hearing needs. Integration of ear and hearing care into primary care services is possible through training and capacity building at this level.
Hearing loss due to loud sounds is permanent but preventable
Exposure to loud sounds causes temporary hearing loss or tinnitus. Unfortunately, many of us in Jamaica are exposed to loud sounds from music and sound systems, which often last into the wee hours of the morning. This unnecessary exposure to loud sounds also reflects the ever-increasing indiscipline in the society as individuals do what they wish without the fear of law enforcement or the concern for their neighbours.
However, prolonged or repeated exposure can lead to permanent hearing damage, resulting in irreversible hearing loss. Young people can better protect their hearing by keeping the volume down on personal audio devices, using well-fitted, and if possible, noise-cancelling earphones/headphones wearing earplugs at noisy venues and receiving regular medical check-ups.
Ways to reduce hearing loss
Take care of your heart – heart disease and high blood pressure both have the potential to harm your ear’s delicate hearing systems. Follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations if you have high cholesterol or blood pressure to bring it under control. Poor cardiovascular health can cause a number of chronic diseases.
Use ear plugs – foam earplugs or earmuffs that have been specifically made to muffle noise are affordable and simple to use. Using them can help prevent hearing loss if your workplace has constant noise levels throughout the day. If leaving the area is not an option, take regular breaks away from the noise to give your hearing a break.
Quit smoking – studies show that exposure to cigarette smoke, whether firsthand, secondhand, or even during pregnancy, can significantly affect a person’s hearing health. Similar effects can be seen with excessive alcohol consumption, which can poison the ear. Although there isn’t much research on vaping and hearing loss, there are anecdotal accounts connecting the two.
In pursuit of hearing for all
In many societies, it is rather expensive to access the services of an audiologist. Governments need to invest more in the training of these specialist health care professionals in order to increase accessibility, especially in the rural areas.
Audiologists are health care professionals who identify access and manage disorders of hearing, balance and other neural systems.
The WHO encourages governments to develop and enforce legislation for safe listening and to raise awareness of the risks of hearing loss. The private sector should include WHO’s recommendations for safe listening features in their products, venues, and events.
Undoubtedly, behaviour change does not occur overnight. In order to motivate behaviour change, civil society organizations, parents, teachers, and physicians can educate young people to practice safe listening habits. Law enforcement must do their jobs to ensure that law-abiding citizens are not unnecessarily exposed to loud night noise. In embracing a more civil society, all stakeholders must work in unison. Let us work together to make ear and hearing care for all a reality.
In the words of Dr. Ren Minghui, we must work together to promote safe listening practices, especially among young people.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.