WHAT IS HEARING LOSS?

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What is Hearing Loss?

Definitions Currently there is no legal definition for hearing loss or deafness. It is traditionally defined as any decrease in the ability to hear sounds that are considered to be within the range for “normal” hearing. The ear can hear sounds from 20 to 20,000 Hertz. Hertz is a unit of pitch, which is characteristic of all sound. The “normal” loudness level at which the human ear can hear soun is 0 to 25dB. This range of hearing was defined by testing a large number of young adults in the early 20th centruy. Their average ability to hear at each of the pitches tested was called 0 dB HL. The term hearing impaired is not acceptable when referring to persons with a hearing loss. “Hearing Impaired” is a medical condition; it is not a collective noun for people who have varying degrees of hearing loss. It fails to recognize the differences between the Deaf, Deafblind, Deafened, and Hard of Hearing communities.

Deaf: • Deaf (with a capital D): A sociological term referring to those individuals who are medically deaf or hard of hearing who identify with and participate in the culture, society, and use the primary language, which is Sign Lnaguage. • deaf: A medical/audiological term referring to persons who have little or no functional hearing. May also be used as a collective noun (“the deaf”) to refer to persons who are medically deaf but who do not necessarily identify with the Deaf Community. Hard of Hearing: • This term is usually used to describ individuals with a degree of hearing loss but who continue to use hearing as their main mode of communication. In many cases, hard of hearing persons use hearing aids to augment their ability to understand speech. Congenitally Deafened: • This term refers to individuals who were born with a hearing loss. Pre-Lingually Deafened: • This term is used to describe individuals who have lost their hearing before language skills are well established. This usually means that the hearing loss occurred before the age of four. Post-Lingually Deafened: • This term is used to describe individuals whose hearing loss occurred after normal language patterns have been established. Adventitously/Aquired/Late-Deafened: • This term refers to individuals who were born with normal hearing but whose hearing became impaired later in life. Page 1

Possible Effects of Hearing Loss Persons with a Hearing Loss: • Often report that group sitiations are no longer enjoyable. They may be reluctant to attend or stop attending church, theatre, clubs, meetings, parties, and other social situationss. • Often lose out on social small talk and general information. • May “bluff” (often unconsciously) instead of asking for repetition or clarification. They may misunderstand what is required of them or what is happening around them. • May feel confused and in the wrong. They may make mistakes that make them feel embarrassed. • May be unaware of their hearing loss and may become impatient and cranky with others or blame others for “munbling” or not speaking loudly enough. • May feel anxious, depressed, frustrated, and/or angry. • May be unable to participate because they cannot hear all of the conversation or feel left out; leading them to become anti-social and alienated from other people. • Stress and fatigue often accompany a hearing loss. Guessing and straining to hear can be frustrating and tiring. • Many experience tinnitus or sounds/ringing in their ears or head, which can interfere with the person’s hearing ability and/or be very stressful. • May feel less confident, unsure of themselves, and may have decreased self esteem. • They may become dependant on others to help them. • May be afraid of being rejected by family, friends, and co-workers which may lead them to hide the hearing loss. How Others May Treat a Person with a Hearing Loss: • May “talk down” to the person with hearing loss, saying things like “nevermind” or “its not important”. • May be impatient and make harsh judgements about the person with hearing loss. • May be unsupportive and neglect the person with hearing loss, not including them in conversations. Support and understanding from family and friends is essential and can affect the success of the person with hearing loss in adjusting to the effect of the hearing loss and to their hearing aid(s). Page 2

Noise Induced Hearing Loss Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the most prevalent occupational disease. It is permanent and irreversable. Sound is measured in units called decibles or dB’s. WorkSafe BC requires that people wear hearing protection if industrial noise measures 85dB or greater. However noise can also include: loud music, airplanes, train and traffic noise, and power tools.

Noise Can Damage the Ear in Three Ways: 1. Sudden Hearing Loss. This is usually permanent and is often the result of a single exposure to a very loud sound level, like an explosion. 2. Gradual Hearing Loss. Exposure to noise over a period of many years can cause significant permanent hearing loss. Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) may occur. This is a key indicator to noise “overload”. 3. Temporary Hearing Loss. If exposure time is brief it can cause a temporary hearing loss. Hearing may return to normal within minutes, hours, or days. Repeated exposure may lead to a permanent hearing loss. NIHL occurs initially in the high frequencies but it can affect the lower frequencies over time. NIHL usually occurs gradually; a person is often unaware of its progression until the loss is severe enough to interfere with conversation. The common complaint is that people are always “mumbling”. Portable audio players and some “high end” car stereos can readh excessively high levels. Depending on the volume control setting, damage may occur even after a short period of time. The higher the volume, the less time you can listen, before potentially causing permanent damage. Increasing the volume to mask external noise is not a good idea. With portable audio players, use earphones that block up your ear to drown out environmental noise, so you can lower the volume. Some portable audio players have volume limiters to decrease exposure. With any noise, if you have to raise your voice in order to have a conversation, it is probably too loud. Turn the volume down or wear hearing protection.

If you suspect you have a noise induced hearing loss, have your hearing tested by a Registered Audiologist.

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Hearing Loss in Adults What are the causes of hearing loss in adults? • There are many causes of hearing loss, including exposure to loud noise, aging, illness, infection, head trauma, birth defects, reactions to certain drugs, or other possible unknown causes. What is presbycusis? • This is the technical term for hearing loss associated with aging. The aging process is the most common cause of sensorineural impairment (nerve deafness). It can start as early as our 30’s and become increasingly noticible with each decade. Hearing loss due to aging usually affects the higher frequencies first. Of course, not all seniors are hard of hearing. What causes the loss of hearing that comes with aging? • It is usually due to deterioration of the auditory nerve fibers in the cochlea (inner ear). There may be a genetic component but no specific cause has been identified yet. Can hearing aids really help? • Many adults view their hearing loss as an inevitable consequence of old age. They may avoid hearing aids or wait until their hearing is quite severe before getting a hearing aid. Early hearing aid use allows individuals to acclimatize to amplified sounds when the brain has had less chance to “forget” what things sound like. While hearing aids do not resotre normal hearing, they have been shown to improve hearing and hearing relates deficits. Hearing aids can help people to continue to enoy their activities and participate in meaningful and productive ways. Am I too old to adjust to a hearing aid? • You ar never too old to try a hearing aid. Wearing hearing aids for the first time (or trying new aids) requires that you re-learn how to hear, and like learning anything it can be challenging. It takes time and perserverance to get used to hearing sounds that you may not have heard, or heard very softly for many years. Adjusting to hearing aids is different for everyone. Don’t let someone else’s experience dictate whether you try a hearing aid or not. It is also helpful if there is an understanding family member that will help and encourage you while you are adapting to the aid. Can a hearing aid help people who have senorineural (nerve) loss? • For most sensorineural hearing losses, the only effective solution is a hearing aid along with auditory training, speech reading, and/or aural rehabilitation.

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Hearing Loss in Children How many children have a hearing loss? • It is estimated that 1 in every 300 newborns in BC is born with some degree of hearing loss. This rises to 1 in 50 babies born in Special Care/Neonatal Care Nurseries.. What causes hearing loss in children? • Many cases of congenital (present at birth) hearing loss are due to hereditary factors. • Other causes are infections during pregnancy such as Rubella (German Measles) or premature birth. Often, the cause if unknown. • Later onset of hearing loss in childhood may be caused by illnesses such as meningitis, measels or high fever, and side effects of some medications or accidents involving the ear or skull • Middle ear problems or infections are common in children. These require medical attention. Is it easy to determine if a child has a hearing loss? • in 2007, the BC government initiated the Early Hearing Program, where approximately 90% of all babies born in the province are screened to check for a hearing loss. • If you have any concerns about your baby’s hearing or language development call your local health unit to have your baby’s hearing tested.

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Better Communication with Hearing Loss Course The Better Communication Course offers strategies in hearing loss management. This small, interactive group setting is led by Henry Lam, a Registered Audiologist and Hearing Instrument Practitioner. Over the course of four weeks, this class presents tips on difficult situations that Hard of Hearing persons face daily. Sign-up to learn how to get the most out of your hearing aid, to learn about reading lips and to discover ways you can communicate more comfortably and effectively! Place: WIDHH, 2125 West 7th Avenue, Vancouver, BC Time: New classes start every month* Wednesdays, 1:30pm - 3:30pm Cost: FREE with new hearing aid purchases**

Instructor: Henry Lam, M.Sc., RAUD, RHIP, Registered Audiologist * Classes may be cancelled if there is not enough enrollment ** $20 for WIDHH clients; $80 for non-clients

For more information, or to register for a course, please contact: Henry Lam 604-736-7391 or [email protected]

How do I get the most out of my hearing aids? How can I better cope with my hearing loss?

Why do I still not understand in restaurants?

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