Hearing loss affects 12 million people in the UK and by 2035 that’s estimated to rise to a staggering 15.6 million – a fifth of the population
The figures are shocking for sure, but beyond the life-impacting effect of hearing loss, research suggests sufferers are also more susceptible to anxiety and depression. And, by the way, don’t assume hearing loss only affects older people. There are many causes, from childhood through to old age, from conditions such as congenital loss, infection, glue ear and otosclerosis.
SIGNS OF HEARING LOSS
Hearing loss often happens gradually, so you might not notice it at first. There are some common signs to look out for.
• Turning the TV up louder than your family wants it to be.
• Finding it hard to follow conversation in pubs and restaurants.
• Struggling to hear on the phone.
• Often asking people to repeat what they say.
• Having your partner complain that you don’t listen to them.
• Feeling that other people mumble.
There are two main types of hearing loss. It’s possible to have both types, and this is known as mixed hearing loss.
Sensorineural hearing loss: This is caused by damage to the hair cells inside the inner ear, or damage to the hearing nerve, or both. It makes it more difficult to hear quiet sounds and reduces the quality of sound that you can hear. Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent but can often be treated with hearing aids.
Conductive hearing loss: This happens when a blockage, such as ear wax, stops sound passing from your outer ear to your inner ear. Sounds will become quieter and things might sound muffled. It can be temporary or permanent. Conductive hearing loss is usually caused by ear problems.
Taking care of your hearing is a small price to pay for healthy ears – even if you’re young and your hearing is fine. Here are a few basic tips to help keep your ears at optimum health:
Exposure to loud noises for long periods could put you at risk of permanent hearing loss. Tinnitus – or ringing in the ears – can be an early warning sign of hearing damage. The most worrying thing is that you won’t know if you’ve done permanent damage until it’s already happened. It is a good idea to take a break from loud noises to allow your fragile inner ears to recover.
Try to limit exposure to loud noise – as a simple rule if you’re listening to music with headphones and others can hear, it’s too loud. If you’re in a noisy environment you can always use earplugs. If you use plugs when sleeping, clean them regularly and ensure they’re snug but not tight, or you risk infection.
Most people don’t have a problem when water enters their ears. However, some are susceptible to itchy ears when they are regularly exposed to water and can be more vulnerable to Otitis externa, or ‘swimmer’s ear’. Symptoms include ear pain, itching, discharge, tenderness and even a degree of hearing loss.
If you’re a keen swimmer or spend a lot of time in the pool, then there are some things you can do to protect yourself from swimmer’s ear. Wear earplugs to keep water out of your ear canal. Use special eardrops that help dry out your ear canal after swimming.
Ears are normally self-cleaning so trying to stop earwax is as futile as trying to prevent the production of urine. Sticking cotton buds or pen tops into the ear simply pushes the wax in too far and stops it coming out of the ear – so don’t do it! Ear candles supposedly help remove wax, but there’s no scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of the method. It is much better for ear care if you just clean the outside of your ears with a damp flannel.
Eustachian tubes, between the middle ear and back of the nose let air in and out of the middle ear when we experience pressure changes. Most people who have been on a plane notice their ears often ‘pop’ when descending and this is the tube opening to release pressure.
If the tube blocks, which can occur with colds or allergies, then the ears can become very painful with pressure changes. It may be advisable to try to avoid flying when you have a cold but a nasal decongestant can be very useful if taken just before flying in those who have a history of problems with their ears when flying. People who scuba dive often have the same problem and the same treatment may be useful.
Did you know that exercise is good for your ears? Cardio exercises like walking, running or cycling get the blood pumping to all parts of your body, including the ears. This helps the internal parts of the ear to stay healthy and working to maximum potential.
Your hearing loss might not be serious, but it could be a medical emergency. If this is the case, there is a very short window of time for treatment to successfully restore hearing.