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Hearing Loss Becoming an Epidemic in Canada

Hearing loss is becoming an epidemic in Canada, researchers warn. “People are starting to lose their hearing 20 years earlier than in the past,” said Heather Ferguson, president of the Hearing Foundation of Canada in Toronto. “I believe we’re on the verge of noise induced hearing loss becoming a Public health crisis.”

Due to the prevalence of noise in today’s society, the number of people with hearing loss is expected to grow faster than the rate of increase of the senior population itself.

A Canadian Hearing Society Awareness survey indicated five years ago that 25 per cent of people with hearing loss are under 40, and 70 per cent are under 60.

The average age of those experiencing hearing loss was 51. And 16 per cent of 6 to 19 year olds have early signs of hearing loss at the range most affected by loud sounds. And it’s only going to get worse. Victoria McLeod, an audiology manager with ReSound Canada in Toronto, said she is seeing a definite change in the numbers. “Ten years ago most people coming in were in their 70s. Now it’s people in their 50s and 60s – some are even in their 30s.”

She added that studies have indicated that untreated hearing loss can also lead to a number of long-term side-effects, including depression and accelerated dementia.

The fact is, listening to any sound at 85 decibels or higher for a prolonged period of time can cause permanent damage to hearing. The maximum safe exposure time to 120 decibels is eight seconds. The problem is there is a raft of activities in our everyday lives that exceed those noise levels.

For example, an average conversation takes place at around 60 decibels. Standing on a downtown street corner in rush hour, you’re probably exposed to about 85 to 90 decibels. While using an electric hair dryer or pushing a gas lawnmower, you’re well into the danger zone at 90-plus decibels. At peak levels, iPods can hit volumes of 120 decibels, which is louder than a chainsaw or jackhammer. Music in dance clubs can peak as high as 150 decibels. Ian Murray, a hearing instrument specialist at the Robillard hearing Aid Centres in Ottawa, said that even 30 seconds at a venue at 100 decibels – well below the level created by a single leaf blower, let alone a stack of high-powered speakers – can cause permanent hearing loss.

Since avoiding noise is not always an option in this day and age, what can people do to stop the spiraling trend to high frequency hearing loss? It’s all pretty easy, said Murray. Plug your ears. If you’re working with a skill saw, lawn mower or leaf blower, just go to your local hardware store first and buy a $15 pair of cheap sound-blocking ear protectors, said Murray. “You might just be doing a few cuts, but with hearin g loss, the damage is cumulative. Each half hour of extreme noise adds up.”

As Ferguson notes that when it comes to earplugs, there’s a disconnect between what we know, and what we are willing to do. “Musicians on stage will be wearing specially designed earplugs, but the fans aren’t. A parent will wear hearing protection in an occupational setting and then use a leaf blower or go to a concert and not wear a thing.” When you’re using an iPod or other personal music player, keep the volume levels reasonable. The informal rule of thumb is the 60/60 rule: volume should be at no more than 60 per cent for more than 60 minutes at a time.

Make sure children are appropriately protected from nearby sounds, too. The effects are cumulative for them, too. Also, don’t be afraid to get your hearing checked regularly. There are now retail outlets and kiosks that provide hearing testing services. If you find an infection is affecting your hearing, get to a doctor right away. In some cases, a steroid treatment can fix the problem before hearing loss sets in.

And if you are diagnosed with hearing loss, don’t wait years to get hearing aids. Murray said it can take people years after diagnosis to take the plunge. But given the slick, new high-tech hearing devices that are now available – including Bluetooth-enabled headsets that allow you to use cell phones and music players – there are no more excuses for not hearing the world around you properly.

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Reprinted from: MedIndia, May 30, 2007. All rights reserved

Understanding Hearing Loss

by Hugh Hetherington

To begin with, hearing takes place in the brain. The ear itself is a mechanical-electrical device not unlike a microphone. It receives the sound vibrations from around us and converts them via a multi-stage process into electrical signals that are conveyed to the brain via the auditory nerve. It is a complex system that works synergistically with all of our other senses and provides us with the ability to interpret the world around us.

This complex process, even in the most difficult listening situations give us remarkable abilities to suppress noise, focus on sounds of interest, recognize voices of people we know, and identify an humongous catalogue of sounds that have been filed away in our brains beginning from the time we were born and perhaps even before. It does all of this in fractions of a second.

Unfortunately, hearing loss impairs some of these abilities and affects individuals differently depending upon many factors. Hearing loss can happen at any age and from a wide variety of causes. Congenital hearing loss in children can delay the development of speech and can result in social and educational difficulties. Hereditary hearing loss can show up at any age as can other causes, such as, excessive noise exposure, head trauma and inner ear damage from infections or taking ototoxic medications.

When hearing loss occurs relationships can begin to suffer. There is frequently a misunderstanding about hearing loss, not only by most hearing persons, but by those who suffer from the disability. It is often interpreted as being rude, unfriendly, or even a sign of mental confusion or dementia. It can be called an “invisible disability” and, as such, family, friends and co-workers do not understand the impact it has on the life of the hearing impaired individual. Consequently, they do not know what is needed to make communication easier. To complicate the matter further, many in the early stages of hearing loss fail to recognize what is happening. They are said to be in denial. Can you deny something you don’t know you have? Just asking! The problem generally becomes noticeable at work or when a family member or friend complains about the difficulty in communicating.

Common misconceptions are that hearing aids restore normal hearing or that louder is better. In cases of mild hearing loss this may be partially true, however, in the moderate to severe cases of sensorineural hearing loss, cochlear damage has taken place and making them louder does not restore the missing sounds. Clarity is the issue and appropriately fitted hearing aids along with the right attitude, learned coping strategies and use of other assistive listening devices can help to manage the hearing loss and improve the quality of life for the hearing impaired person and those around them.

How a person feels about their hearing loss and how well they manage their needs are the keys to being successful. The first step is acceptance that there is a problem. This needs to be recognized by all concerned. Communication is a two way process. Patience and understanding are necessary. Certain accommodations are also necessary. Don’t try to communicate from different rooms. Get the attention of the hearing impaired person before beginning to speak. Ensure that you are facing each other. When necessary, make sure that the environment is conducive to good communication by getting away from noise and ensuring adequate lighting. Courtesy, patience and understanding on both sides will lead to less stress and a more enjoyable life.

Reprinted from North Shore Newsletter, June 2007 Edition. All rights reserved

Older Teens/Young Adults with Hearing Loss

by Sophie Paller

Young adults dealing with hearing loss have had many challenges as they come to an age of maturity. As “[h]earing or not hearing is not a superficial difference” (, many people may not realize the trauma associated with living with a hearing family, going to school, and looking for a job. A hearing loss is considered to be a challenge throughout one’s life.

teenagersIt’s always good to accomplish a healthy relationship with your family. However being part of a family, who are all hearing, is difficult for a hard of hearing (HOH) persons. In brief, HOH persons always become dependent on family members though they would rather be independent. By asking for all this extra support, they can offend other family members. For example, their hearing siblings may become jealous of them, because they need the extra help and guidance. Most hearing siblings tend to stick together, while an HOH person is left out most of the time. When they get older, they connect better with the family and become more independent. If they are lucky enough to be a part of a loving family, their parents and siblings are proud of them and their many accomplishments.

Education is a necessity in a HOH person’s life. Their education starts with elementary and continues through to post-secondary. In elementary school, an HOH person is a very shy and quiet. Yet when they make friends they feel safe and come out of their shell. When junior and senior high school begins that’s when their self-esteem can hit rock bottom. When a non HOH teen looks at someone who is different from them they tend to tease and bully that person. When this happens the HOH person feels non-special and powerless. An example of this is when they have school projects they have to work in a group. A HOH person prefers to work by themselves as a hearing person doesn’t like working with a HOH person. This behaviour may continue to the end of the high school years which makes it very difficult for a HOH person to contribute to and be a part of group projects. After graduation post-secondary starts and unless they remain committed and have not become jaded by their years of education they enter a new phase in their learning. Many HOH persons may take a year off as they are feeling anxious about entering a learning environment. What the HOH person doesn’t realize is that in post-secondary a non HOH person is generally more considerate and understanding to a HOH person, as they have matured and are more accepting of others. Another benefit for the HOH person in post-secondary education is the amount of services provided on campus.

In order to obtain a good education to further their careers the HOH person must be financially secure. The HOH person experiences discrimination in their efforts to find gainful employment. To find a job an HOH person must go through certain stages. The first stage is talking to an employment counsellor or for special help a disability counsellor. This counsellor will help them to decide what kind of occupation they are looking for and will offer excellent advice. Stage two is checking out the resources available (ex…newspapers, phone books) this also includes networking. Networking is one of the best resources. The third stage is looking for a job. This requires a lot of preparation and patience. The HOH person experiences discrimination by an employer because they are hearing impaired. Discrimination means “unfavourable treatment based on racial, sexual, or prejudice” (The Oxford Dictionary). As soon a HOH person tells people that they have a hearing loss immediately they are looked upon as being stupid and are no longer paid attention to. No matter how much they are discriminated upon they shouldn’t give up finding a job. There are really cruel and nasty employers, but there are also caring and kind employers. The main factor in looking for a job is to keep trying and never give up no matter how difficult it is.

In conclusion, there is really no difference between a non HOH and HOH person. They are all smart, gifted and talented in different ways. They have to accept themselves for who they are. There were many different topics chosen for this article including family, education and employment. In each of these areas, there is a challenge for each and every one of us who are hearing impaired. It’s a challenge being HOH, but we are strong and brave, therefore we never quit.