Hello! Can You Hear Me?

Hearing problem is perhaps one of the first signs of advancing age. From the time your children start giving you an exasperated look at your constant “What?” it should dawn on you that you are in all likelihood becoming hard of hearing. Yet another sign is when you starting speaking on the phone at the top of your voice thinking the person on the other side cannot hear you just as you cannot hear him or her or you find yourself turning the TV and radio volume high. Well, it can become a little embarrassing and frustrating but there is little you can do to prevent it.

Although hearing loss is most commonly associated with growing age, other factors also contribute to it. Very often, it is difficult to distinguish between the two.

Long-term exposure to noise i.e. sounds that are either too loud or last too long is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. This noise exposure can damage the sensory hair cells in the ear that allow us to hear. Once these hair cells are damaged, they do not grow back and the ability to hear is diminished.

High blood pressure or diabetes, can also contribute to hearing loss. Medications that are toxic to the sensory cells in the ears (some chemotherapy drugs) can also cause hearing loss.

There are cases where age-related hearing loss is caused by abnormalities of the outer ear or middle ear. Such abnormalities may include reduced function of the tympanic membrane (the eardrum) or reduced function of the three tiny bones in the middle ear that carry sound waves from the tympanic membrane to the inner ear.

Most older people who experience hearing loss have a combination of both age-related hearing loss and noise-induced hearing loss.

It is really difficult to establish how one can prevent age-related hearing loss. All that one can do is protect oneself from noise-induced hearing loss by protecting the ears from sounds that are too loud and last too long. It’s important to be aware of potential sources of damaging noises, such as loud music, crackers, especially in the Indian context. It is also best to avoid heated conversations where people get all charged up and raise their pitch in a desperate bid to be the first one to be heard. Avoiding loud noises, reducing the amount of time you’re exposed to loud noise, and protecting your ears with ear plugs or ear muffs are easy things you can do to protect your hearing and limit the amount of hearing you might lose as you get older.

It is better to come to terms with your hearing loss and look to modern medicine for help rather than feel frustrated at being left out of conversations in the family. The elderly often end up being lonely souls because no one has the patience to repeat conversations to them. There was a time when people used to have inhibitions about wearing a hearing aid. But the fact of the matter is that hearing loss is more visible than a hearing aid. So, why not go in for one? Modern hearing aids are tiny devices that just fit into the ear. There are also treatments available such as middle ear implants and cochlear implants. But before you go in for a device or a treatment you need to find out what is causing your hearing loss. And for that you must get your hearing evaluated by a specialist.

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