The human ear is amazing. It is one of the smallest and most complex organs in the body, capable of turning the tiniest disturbances in air molecules into a form the brain can understand - and doing so instantaneously, over an enormous range of pitch and loudness. Considering the ear's delicacy, it is remarkably resilient. Nevertheless, illness or injury can impair our ability to hear properly.
In recent years, substantial advances have made it possible to determine the cause of hearing impairment in nearly all cases, and to treat the hearing loss in many ears.
How Does Hearing Loss Affect One's Life?Virtually no condition in medicine can have as profound an effect on quality of life as even moderate hearing loss in some people.
Hearing loss makes even routine communication difficult. High frequency hearing loss often involves loss of ability to hear consonants such as s, f, t, and z, even though vowels can be heard normally. Consequently, people hear but cannot make out what is being said.
This may result in frustration, withdrawal from social activities, depression, and marital discord. People lose the ability to take in the sounds like bird songs, rustling of leaves, and the voices of children. In general, these infringements on the quality of life can be overcome through medical or surgical treatment or with hearing aids.
When hearing loss occurs early in childhood, its devastating consequences are more obvious than when it occurs late in life. A hearing deficit in infants can interfere with psychological, emotional, and speech development. It also makes learning a mammoth task and can cause frustration or isolation.
Even more mild forms of hearing loss early in life can cause great difficulties, including poor attention and bad grades in school. Frequently, such children are considered "not too bright," before anyone realizes that a hearing loss is present. When it is corrected, the changes in the child's performance, attitude, and interactions are often remarkable.
- In 2004, over 275 million people globally had moderate-to-profound hearing impairment, 80% of them in low- and middle-income countries.
- Infectious diseases such as meningitis, measles, mumps and chronic ear infections can lead to hearing impairment. Other common causes include exposure to excessive noise, head and ear injury, ageing and the use of ototoxic drugs.
- Half of all cases of deafness and hearing impairment are avoidable through primary prevention.
- A large percentage can be treated through early diagnosis and suitable management.
- Depending on the cause of hearing loss, it may be treated medically, surgically or through devices such as hearing aids and Cochlear Implants.
- Production of hearing aids meets less than 10% of global need. In developing countries, fewer than 1 out of 40 people who need a hearing aid have one.