One of the most important senses, hearing is not only significant for effective communication, but it also links us emotionally with other beings
By Dr. Shashidhar TB,
One of the most important senses, hearing is not only significant for effective communication, but it also links us emotionally with other beings. While leading our normal lives, we may not experience the impact and importance of effective communication but over 466 million people across the globe are struggling daily with hearing loss to derive the meaning of simply uttered words from their friends and families which is impacting their social and physical well-being.
To promote ear and hearing care across the world, World Hearing Day is observed on 3rd March every year to seek global participation in raising awareness on hearing loss. A World Health Organisation report predicts that more than 900 million people are expected to suffer from hearing loss by 2050, out of which 34 million are children. The indicated numbers raise a concern and the mammoth challenges amalgamated with future risks have now made our policymakers and stakeholders to find a silver lining and call for global action to ensure a better hearing for all.
Hearing loss is one of the most common disabilities in India. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, 6.3% of the Indian population suffers from significant hearing loss. Of these, a large percentage is of children between the ages of 0 to 14 years. With such a large number of hearing-impaired young Indians, the chances of severe loss of productivity, both physical and economic are higher.
Widely accepted as a common birth defect, hearing loss refers to a condition where the hearing loss in adults is greater than 40 decibels (dB) in the better hearing ear and it is greater than 30 dB in the better hearing ear in children. However, there are many hints which can help to detect hearing loss at a very early stage. If a baby is not startled by loud sounds, doesn’t turn towards a sound when he or she is 6 months old; is not saying easy words like ‘mama’ or ‘papa’ even after 1 year; turns head on seeing, but not when someone calls out baby’s name, etc. are some early warnings of hearing loss. Today, it is also established that a family history of hearing loss also puts a newborn at a higher risk. Some babies are born with hearing loss, which is known as a congenital hearing loss but many other factors like premature birth, underlying infections, injuries, among others can magnify the problems in listening abilities.
Furthermore, many individuals develop symptoms of hearing loss at a later stage. These include difficulty in comprehending what people are saying, speaking differently, asking frequent questions, increasing TV volume, or sitting very close to it to hear, exhaustion from listening, complaining of ear pain or noises, reading lips, etc. If these conditions are not treated timely, hearing loss can affect a person’s ability to communicate, work, learn and socialize, leading to loneliness, depression, cognitive decline, and poor mental health. Also, the growth in the working-age population risks offered by diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, ototoxic drugs, underlying health conditions, excessive use of audio devices, trauma, or injury to the head are major catalysts of hearing loss among individuals.
According to WHO, half of all cases of hearing loss can be easily prevented by immunizing children against infectious diseases, timely screening, and treating those who are suffering from chronic ear infections. Understanding the severity of the challenges today, most medical professionals and hospitals do a hearing screening before sending the baby home after birth. If not done, then it is important to get a hearing screening within the first 3 weeks of the baby’s delivery. If the test results indicate a problem, doctors should start treatment by the time the child is 6 months old. Parents should keep in mind that other than initial hearing screening, kids should have their hearing evaluated at regular age intervals.
People suffering from age-related hearing loss can be helped with hearing aids which can be customized as per specific hearing needs. For other conditions, treatment options require medical intervention from an ear-nose-throat (ENT) specialist to address the root cause. Conditions like wax buildup, infections, or injuries causing temporary hearing loss can be treated easily and for serious conditions, treatment options include hearing aids, medicines, surgeries, or cochlear implants. Good listening for better communication is important at all stages of life. Today, hearing loss can be avoided through preventive steps, early diagnosis, and better ear care practices. Timely action is the need of the hour to prevent and address hearing loss across the globe.
(The author is Head – Surgery (ENT), Artemis Hospitals, Gurugram. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)