For World Hearing Day, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is urging everyone to check their hearing and to practice safe listening. The day kicks off Hearing Awareness Week, an initiative by the Deafness Foundation to raise community awareness of hearing impairment and give people in the community the opportunity to share their experiences and knowledge.
Hearing loss is the second most common health condition experienced by Australians, ahead of asthma, heart disease, cancer and diabetes. In fact, 1 in 6 Australians adults has hearing loss.
Untreated, hearing loss can cause a broad range of issues, including poorer mental health and brain function, reduced employment, and relationship breakdowns. That’s why it important to find a solution sooner rather than later.
But hearing loss is a silent thief – it usually happens so gradually that you don’t notice any change to your hearing at first.
These are the common signs of hearing loss:
- You mix up consonants. Not too many people realise that a hearing problem is first noticed as a loss of clarity rather than volume. Your first clue might be mixing up consonants; you’ll hear ‘tear’ instead of ‘beer’.
- You find it hard to follow a conversation in a crowded room or restaurant. The ear and the brain work together to understand conversation in difficult places, but if your hearing has declined, you may first notice it when you are somewhere where you are trying to listen and it’s noisy.
- You feel like people are always mumbling. If people you speak to seem, more often than not, to be mumbling, it can be a sign of hearing loss, which makes normal speech sound muffled.
- You get lots of complaints about the volume. When people around you claim that your preferred TV or radio volume is uncomfortably loud, it’s worth paying attention because they could be picking up a gradual change in your hearing that isn’t obvious to you.
- You find it easier to understand men’s voices. Finding deeper voices easier to detect means your hearing is likely deteriorating in the upper registers of sound. Speech is generated by the vibration of the vocal cords and the frequency at which they vibrate is known as the ‘fundamental frequency’. Men tend to speak with a fundamental voice frequency near the middle C note, or 256 hertz, and women speak with a fundamental frequency that’s about an octave higher and thus harder to hear for people with certain kinds of hearing loss.
- You hear buzzing or ringing in your ears. This is called ‘tinnitus’ and is usually a sign of hearing damage caused by too much exposure to loud sound.
What to do if you think your hearing may have worsened
Once you’ve seen your GP to make sure your ears aren’t blocked with wax or that your hearing loss isn’t a secondary complication of an undiagnosed illness, you should take a hearing test.
These days there are hearing tests you can take online, in the comfort of home, without a specialist appointment.
Blamey Saunders Hears offers a free, clinically validated test on their website, which you can take at any time to put to rest any concerns about your hearing.
Depending on your results, the solution may involve hearing aids, or it may be as simple as having built-up wax removed by a hearing care professional.
Here are some things you can do to reduce your risk of further hearing damage:
- Take frequent breaks away from the source if you have to be around loud sound
- Use hearing protection when you know you’re going to be around loud sound – you can get custom-made earplugs for concerts.
- Reduce the volume that comes through your headphones, the radio or TV
- Treat any ear infections promptly because they can damage hearing