Hearing loss affects about 10% of the population and possibly
as many as 50% of people aged over 65 years. For most people
it is a very slow process that creeps up on them. At first
they think that other people mumble, that children speak too
quickly, and that television is not clear, or that background
noise in social group situations drowns out the words. Gradually
people realise that it is not others who are not speaking
properly but their own hearing that is at fault.
Hearing is an important body sense. It is an important element
of human communication; to be able to chat with our friends,
to hear the bank teller and the shop keeper, to hear the speaker
at a meeting, to hear the minister at church, to follow our
favourite TV programs, music, to hear our children and grandchildren
tell us about their day, to hear the birds chirping and to
hear soft endearments from a partner. Such simple pleasures
in life, which we often take for granted, are made difficult
when hearing loss is present.
Hearing loss is an invisible condition and because it often
develops so gradually, it is difficult to identify that you
may have some hearing loss until it is quite advanced. Some
of the early signs of hearing loss are:
• People seem to mumble and are difficult to
• TV has to be turned up louder than others would
• You have to ask people to repeat
• It is difficult to hear in background noise
• You have trouble understanding speech
• You can hear the voice but can’t make
out what was said
• You hear the joke but miss the punch line
• You have trouble hearing over a distance, or
when others do not speak directly at you
Apart from the frequent frustration, hearing loss can also
cause embarrassment when you get something wrong and you respond
incorrectly in conversation. Hearing loss impedes one’s
ability to communicate and this leads to being “cut-off”
and becoming isolated. Because it is more difficult to communicate,
it is often easier to avoid difficult hearing situations.
People who can’t hear the sermon stop going to church.
If they can’t hear properly they avoid meetings, sports
events, public gatherings, parties, restaurants, family gatherings
and many other enjoyable activities. It is not unusual for
hard of hearing people to avoid all social contact and suffer
the resultant reduced quality of life.
Hearing loss can be largely divided into two groups. Conductive
loss: where there is some pathology in the outer/middle ear,
and Sensori-neural loss: where there is some nerve damage
to the cochlea or other nerve structures. Conductive losses
are medically and/or surgically correctible and this is the
appropriate method of management. Nerve-type deafness accounts
for the vast majority of all deafness and is not medically
or surgically correctable (except for cochlear implants in
some selected cases). Most nerve deafness is permanent. As
people get older a combination of factors contribute to hearing
loss. A life time of use for a system that never switches
off, as well as all the noise we are exposed to in daily living,
plus effects from ear infections and other ear problems can
all affect hearing and combine to leave one struggling to
hear what is said.
Hearing aids offer significant benefit in most forms of hearing
loss. They do not cure the problem, but go a long way to restoring
one’s ability to hear. Modern hearing aids employ digital
sound processing to ensure precise amplification of sounds
at specific frequencies to match individual hearing requirements.
Many models work automatically, and other by using some controls
on the aids, or by using a remote control. Digital sound processing
also allows hearing aids to analyse all incoming sound and
to selectively amplify softer sounds, but not louder sounds,
to achieve better speech clarity. Each person has hearing
tests done prior to ordering hearing aids and then each hearing
aid is individually programmed to the exact requirement. The
latest generation of hearing aids is more precise and more
effective than the aids of only a few years ago.
When one has a hearing loss in both ears it is important
to have a hearing aid in each ear. Ears are designed to work
as a team, both ears playing an important role in hearing
and understanding. Where possible it is always better to have
balanced hearing, which will ensure optimal speech clarity,
especially in situations with background noise.
If you suspect you have a hearing problem you can arrange
to have your hearing tested by a qualified Audiometrist, Hearing
Aid Specialist or Audiologist. A referral is not required.
You may prefer to go to your doctor who will examine your
ears and then refer you to an appropriate hearing aid provider.
It is important that you should see your doctor if you suffer
with pain in your ears, any discharge from your ears, balance
or giddiness problems, a feeling of blocked ears or a hearing
loss that has come on suddenly you should see your doctor
first. All children must see their doctor first. If the hearing
tests show a medical problem, you will be referred to a medical
practitioner. If not, your service provider will explain to
you your need for hearing aids, what options you have and
discuss styles and prices. There are many types and models
of hearing aids available and your Audiometrist or Hearing
Aid Specialist will help you to choose your best option.
For your best hearing health care all suitably qualified
hearing aid practitioners will be a member of their professional
association: An Audiometrist or Hearing Aid Specialist will
be a member of the Academy of New Zealand Audiometrists Incorporated,
and an Audiologist will be a member of the New Zealand Audiological
Society. All three will be trained in the field of hearing
testing and hearing aid fitting, and work to the ethical standards
set out by their professional bodies.
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FACTS ABOUT HEARING LOSS
- Hearing loss is related to your age, generally the older
you get, the more of a hearing loss you have. It can go
unnoticed because it is such a gradual process.
- Over 465,000 New Zealanders have a hearing problem of
some kind. Only 10% do something about it.
- You can sustain any further hearing loss if preventative
measures are in place at the time the hearing damage was
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HOW THE EAR WORKS
The ear has three main parts: the outer, middle, and inner
ear. The outer ear (the part you can see) opens into the ear
canal. The eardrum separates the ear canal from the middle
ear. Small bones in the middle ear help transfer sound to
the inner ear. The inner ear contains the auditory (hearing)
nerve, which leads to the brain.
Any source of sound sends vibrations or sound waves into
the air. These funnel through the ear opening, down the ear
canal, and strike your eardrum, causing it to vibrate. The
vibrations are passed to the small bones of the middle ear,
which transmit them to the hearing nerve in the inner ear.
Here tiny nerve endings in the cochlea, called hair cells,
transform the vibrations into electro-chemical impulses. These
impulses travel directly to the brain, which interprets the
impulses as sound (music, voice, a car horn, etc...).
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