Hearing management

Updated 27 July 2015

Our Hearing Care FAQ

Damaged hearing? Tinnitus? Costs of cochlear implants? When is hearing loss a disability? Let the expert answer.


As one of more than 40 health professionals making up Health24's online expert service, the Hearing Care expert has answered a fair share of questions sent in by our readers to date. Read the most frequently-asked questions, and if they don't cover what you need to know, post our own question on the Hearing Expert Forum.

Q: Cost of cochlear implants

Good day, I would like to find out if there are any medical aids that cover cochlear implants and how much if possible.

A: Most medical aids cover a part of the implant but seldom if ever, the whole. You can find out from each medical aid, to what extend they are willing to assist. In most cases the families do fund raising to cover the rest of the costs. Please feel free to let me know if you need any further information.

Q: Hearing classified as disability?

 I have been having hearing problems since childhood due to operation upon operation, infection upon infection. At some point I was given hearing aids but it was so uncomfortable that I would rather manage without it. Now, years later, my hearing can become so bad that I have to get very powerful hearing aids or the BAHA. The ENT is not willing to operate anymore. My question is: when am I classified as being disabled?  The reason for this is, I am in the process of changing jobs, I don’t know if I should disclose this to the possible employer. I understand that this will make me more “marketable”, but what if the employer wants to register me as disabled for his EE stats. Would I not be requested to submit some form of evidence?  I hope that you can clear things for me, as I have been in contact with the Department of Labour, but they cannot give me a definite answer.

A: I am sorry but I won't be able to give you a clear answer either. I assume that it works on a case by case basis, and a lot of medical opinions will be involved. The degree of the disability will depend on the nature of the cause, the degree of the loss and the treatment possibilities. I assume that if the problem is still treatable for example with hearing aids, then the disability is less. I would recommend that you get the necessary documentation from your Audiologist (report and audiogram) and then make the decision whether you want to discuss this with your future boss. Please let me know if you need any further information.

Q: Tinnitus (ringing) in the ear

I have a sound like there is air trapped in my right ear, it happens very often. When it starts I can hardly hear with my right ear until it stops.

A: I need to have more detail, but it sounds to me like you might have a whistling sound in your ear, which we refer to as Tinnitus. There are a number of types and causes for tinnitus, as well as things that can make it worse. To name a few: certain diseases, certain medication, hearing loss, noise exposure, age, alcohol, smoking vitamin deficiencies, stress, high blood pressure etc.

I am concerned about the fact that it is just in one ear. I would recommend that you see an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist as soon as possible. It would also be advisable to have your hearing tested by an Audiologist. If you need any referrals to people in your area, please let me know and I will gladly refer you.

Q: Hearing loss percentages

 I've had progressive hearing loss due to middle ear infections over the years. I do wear hearing aids in both ears. My latest audiologist report reads: "Percentage loss of hearing 29%. The permanent hearing disablement value is 14.5."  What does this mean exactly - how bad is my hearing loss actually?
My hearing is getting worse and I'm really worried (I'm only 32).

A: Percentage hearing loss is not a very accurate way to describe hearing loss. It all depends on the degree of loss at every specific frequency (pitch). The influence in your life also depends on the type, the shape and the degree of the loss. If you mail your audiogram to me, I can give you more a more specific explanation of your loss. Have you discussed the options of surgery or treatment with an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist?

In the meantime, it is important to protect the hearing that you do have. A healthy lifestyle, good diet, sufficient vitamins and protection against noise are important. Please feel free to write to me if you have any further questions.

Q: Hearing being damaged at work

I now have permanent ear ache from my head set that I use as I am a switchboard operator, our switchboard has a system where there is one high pitched loud electronic peep (that you cant adjust) when the call comes in (we answer the switchboard for four different companies). After the beep, there's a whisper that announces which company are the callers is looking for then, there are two more high pitched peeps before we answer verbally.  So, there are three high pitched loud electronic peeps per call. There are eight of us switchboard operators answering the switchboard. We take an average of 7000 calls EACH a month which works out to about 77 0000 per year. We take on average 333 calls a day each which works out to 1000 high pitched electronic peeps in out ear a day, which is 5000 electronic sounds a week and 20 000 a month, our stress levels are through the roof.

What is your professional opinion about what damage this may be doing to us physically? Do we have a leg to stand on to beg someone to change this situation? Personally I feel as if I can cry at the drop of a hat, because I can't take this horrific sound in my ears, all of us HATE this. I don't know if there is any link, but we all suffer with neck and shoulder pain which leads to headaches, and some of us have earache all the time. We wear headsets on our ears so the sound goes right into our ear, if we turn the sound down we can't hear our clients. We have all worked here for many years, but this is a new thing they started about three years ago.

A: Unfortunately I was away, so my apologies for the delay in response. Let's deal with your dilemma though.

Intensity levels of 85dB for 8 hours a day can be harmful to your hearing. The best way to find out if there has been any damage to your hearing is to have your hearing evaluated by an Audiologist. If you don't know of someone in your area, please let me know and I'll gladly refer you. In the meantime - the group can get together and discuss their concerns and frustrations with management. Maybe they can change the type of tones. It is always valuable to hear about true concerns from your employees. Please let me know if you need any further or more specific information.


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Hearing Expert

Francis Slabber is a Speech & Language Therapist and Audiologist who has owned and run The Hearing Clinic in Wynberg, Cape Town for the last 17 years. Francis and her team have extensive experience in fitting and supplying hearing aids as well as assistive living devices. Francis has served as the Western Cape Chairperson for the South African Association of Audiologists for three years and has given many talks on the topic of hearing loss and amplification. The Hearing Clinic has a special interest in adult and geriatric hearing impairment, hearing aid fittings and hearing rehabilitation.

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