Most of us know someone with some form of deafness or hearing loss; A grandma that has been affected due to age, a friend that has gone deaf in one ear due to trauma, or a child that has no hearing due to a birth defect.
Mopani Pharmacy had a chat with Danielle Janse van Rensburg, an Audiologist from Kind2Hearing (K2H) at Crossing Centre Nelspruit, to discuss causes, effects and facts about deafness and hearing loss and how to prevent it if possible.
What is your role at K2H?
“As a Clinical Audiologist, I am involved in the identification, assessment, diagnosis, evaluation, treatment and management of disorders of hearing impairments in patients from the age of 11 and older.
I remove ear wax and counsel on hearing health, as well as keep a close relationship with Ear Nose and Throat Specialists (ENT’s) should I need to refer. I work with hearing protection products and liaise with relevant industries to assist in noise conservation and hearing protection”, Danielle explained.
How common is deafness?
“There are approximately two million deaf people in South Africa, which effectively means that as many as 4,5% of people in our country are deaf”, said Danielle. “There is a difference between deafness and hearing loss. Deafness is very specific, as it means that there is little to no residual hearing”, she explained.
“Hearing loss occurs in new born babies more frequently than any other medical condition. In South Africa, there are 17 babies born every day this impairment, with many cases still being undetected”, she continued.
What are the most common causes of deafness?
“Both children and adults can present with hearing losses. A person may be born with a hearing loss, or it can be acquired later in life. Certain hearing losses are genetic, while others may develop from an illness or an injury”, said Danielle.
Some causes of conductive (problem with sound waves moving through ear) hearing losses include
- Outer ear or middle ear infection
- An infection of the mastoid bone; this is the spongy bone positioned behind the ear (mastoiditis)
- Trauma to the ear or head
Some causes of sensorineural (sensory nerve system) hearing losses include
- Caused by certain medication that is toxic to the ears (ototoxicity)
- Genetic, associated with certain congenital syndromes
- The aging process
What can people do to protect their hearing?
It is important to be aware of the environments you are exposed to, to protect your ears when in the presence of noise and to prioritise the care of your ear and hearing. If you have hobbies or a job that exposes you to constant noise or with loud machinery, it is recommended to use ear protection
“Visit any Kind2Hearing branch, we offer customised hearing protection that you will be able to use in your unique environment, as well as offering you other alternatives. Instead of using AirPods or ear phones for music or phone calls; rather use head phones – this increases the surface area,” Danielle explained.
If you like to enjoy music through headphones, you can protect your ears by following the 60/60 rule.
“The suggestion is to listen with headphones at no more than 60% volume for no more than 60 minutes a day. You also need to give your ears time to recover; researchers have found that your ears need an average of 16 hours of quiet to recover from one loud night out”, Danielle recommended.
She warned that medication should always be taken as directed, as certain medications can be ototoxic (toxic to the ears) and may contribute to a hearing loss. “Always discuss the risks of new medications with your health care provider or pharmacist. It is also recommended to have your hearing annually tested for monitoring and prevention,” she concluded.
How should you clean an ear?
Your ear canal, as well as your jaw movements, acts as a natural mechanism to get rid of ear wax. Wax actually plays an important role in your ear;
- It is a natural bug repellent,
- It acts as an antibiotic, as your ear’s local defence
- Moisturises the ear
- Acts as a protective barrier against dirt
“Only once the wax is occluding (obstructing the ear canal) should it be removed by a professional. If you feel that the wax is occluding, and is becoming an irritation, it is best to use Sweet Oil. It is a natural oil that can be purchased at Mopani Pharmacy. Put a few drops in the occluding ear, over 3-6 days. This will soften the wax and allow for the wax to either come out by itself or make it easier for the clinician to remove the wax”, said Danielle.
Can earwax build-up cause deafness?
If too much ear wax builds up, it can block the ear canal. This overproduction of ear wax then acts as a sort of sonic barricade, preventing sound waves from passing through to the inner ear from the outer ear.
“Sound waves need to travel through the ear canal in order to be converted into electrical signals that are processed by the brain. The result is conductive hearing loss. Ear blockage from wax is one of the leading causes of conductive hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss can make softer sounds more difficult to hear and make louder sounds more muffled.
This type of hearing loss can often be temporary—for example, if impacted ear wax is the culprit, it can be removed in a safe and timely manner to reverse the hearing loss. However, if impacted ear wax is left untreated in the canal for too long, it can potentially lead to more permanent hearing loss.
It is important to recognize and remove impacted ear wax before it has a chance to cause irreversible damage to your hearing health”, Danielle explained.
How can you get rid of moisture in your ear?
Danielle explained that the saying, “Don’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear”, is one that many people are aware of, but don’t follow.
“Refrain from using ear buds, they have a negative impact on the natural mechanism of the skin in your ear and jaw movements to remove unwanted objects in your ear. When you feel your ear is wet, rather gently use the corner of a towel to dry your outer ear, or tilt your head to the side and gently tug on your ear lobe to coax the water out.
If you feel that there is water inside your ear, which is accompanied with pain, it is recommended you go see a General Practitioner (GP)/ ENT for investigation.
If you are a swimmer, I would recommend you use swimming protection, of which Prestik is not an option! Any Kind2Hearing branch offers custom-fit swimmers’ earplugs and work wonders in preventing swimmer’s ear”, Danielle warned.
There are earplugs available at Mopani stores as well.
What type of options are available, to treat deafness?
There are many degrees and types of hearing loss. Depending on these factors, your Audiologist will be able to assess and manage appropriately.
“Options for treating hearing loss would include assistive listening devices such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, Bone Anchored hearing aids and/or surgical procedures. For each type of treatment option there are specific features that the Audiologist takes into consideration, to assess if the patient is a candidate for a specific treatment option. It is important to have reasonable expectations towards your hearing; and to trust the process that the audiologist has implemented”, Danielle concluded.
At what point do people visit you? Is it in time or usually too late?
“People often come at a much later stage, either because their partner insists that they get a hearing test, or have been getting complaints from other people. Hearing loss can either be sudden, or slowly progressive, however, the majority of people experience it progressively.
With a progressive hearing loss, people tend to adjust to life quickly, and can easily compensate for it without even being aware of these changes which leads to a late diagnosis.
Unfortunately, there is also a stigma associated with hearing loss, which causes people to refrain from seeking treatment, believing that a hearing aid would make them look older or ‘weaker’.
When hearing loss is unaddressed, however, it may persist, and it may also lead to cognitive decline, social disengagement, and decreases a person quality of life. Hearing Aids are fitted to people of all ages, and just like how glasses improve your sight, hearing aids improve your ability to hear.
Wearing hearing aids does not determine your health status at all. We all need to be aware of the benefits thereof and therefore can foster a more positive outlook on hearing health.
If you feel that your ability to hear “isn’t what it used to be” or if you are experiencing difficulty hearing, particularly in a noisy environment, it is highly recommended that you have a hearing assessment conducted by an audiologist”, Danielle explained.
You can book an appointment with Danielle at Kind2Hearing for a consultation on 013 010 1278. Remember to ask our knowledgeable pharmacists about any medications you are using, and its potential impact on your hearing.
Read more: Earaches – the balancing act