Hearing management

28 August 2018

Could you be losing your hearing without realising it?

Significant loss of hearing isn’t necessarily the only sign that you are busy damaging your ears. Could you be heading for hearing loss without being aware of it?

Hearing loss usually doesn’t happen suddenly but takes a long time to develop. 

It can be caused by many factors and may be temporary or permanent, depending on the type of hearing loss you are experiencing.

But if you have generally healthy ears and you are still young, why worry about hearing at all?

The answer is simple and involves the tiny hair cells in your ear responsible for changing vibrations into electrical signals that are transmitted to the brain. These hair cells can be progressively damaged each time you are exposed to loud nose.

A type of tissue to blame

A study conducted at the University of Iowa and published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that a specific tissue is produced in the ear – the function of this tissue is to maintain a healthy connection between the hair cell and the neurons responsible for transmitting electric signals to your brain.

When these hair cells are damaged, the production of connective tissue stops. The hair cells might still do their normal job and you will hear normally, but over time, the connection between your hair cells and neurons is severed – and this is when hearing loss occurs.

This type of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss and is the most common reason for hearing loss. It is usually also permanent as the damaged hair cells can’t regenerate.

Early signs of hearing loss

You can, however, recognise the early stages of hearing loss and intervene before your hearing loss becomes serious.

The National Health Service of the UK lists the following signs to recognise early loss of hearing:

  • Difficulty hearing people clearly for the first time or asking them to repeat themselves, especially in noisy areas.
  • Constantly having to turn up the volume of your music or television set.
  • Difficulty concentrating while having to listen to someone.
  • Difficulty hearing a conversation over the phone.

Do you suffer from hearing loss? Take our quick test to find out. 

Could your hearing be at risk?

You might be at risk for early onset of hearing loss if:

  • You regularly listen to music over earphones higher than the normal volume.
  • You are regularly exposed to loud noises (such as explosions or building noise) in your job.
  • You have a family history of hearing loss.
  • You are prone to middle ear infections.
  • Your nervous system is compromised by lifestyle factors such as smoking, or chronic illnesses such as diabetes.

How can you protect your hearing?

There are some measures you can take to ensure that you don't do further damage to your hearing:

  • Wear earplugs when you are regularly exposed to loud noises (such as working at a construction site).
  • Stop using earbuds to clean your ears as this can push excess wax further down the ear and damage your eardrums.
  • Give your ears a break after you've been exposed to excessive noise (such as a concert).
  • Turn down the volume if you regularly listen to music with ear- or headphones.

Image credit: iStock


Ask the Expert

Hearing Expert

Minette Lister graduated with a Bachelor of Communication Pathology (Audiology) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville in 2015. Thereafter, she completed her compulsory year of community service at Phoenix Assessment and Therapy Centre in Durban. In 2017, Minette started working for Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. She is passionate about working with children and adults to diagnose and manage hearing loss using state of the art technology. Minette offers hearing screening programmes for newborn and high-risk babies, as well as school-aged children, in order to decrease the incidence of late or unidentified hearing loss.

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