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Don’t turn up the volume, get your hearing tested

May 13, 2019

Now is the time to get your hearing checked if you have been delaying it. Approximately 11 million people in the UK are currently suffering from hearing loss which equates to roughly one in six of us. Of the six million people in the UK who could benefit from hearing aids only two million have them and of this group only 30% use them regularly.

audiologist looking into a man's ear

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Untreated hearing loss is now being routinely linked to several medical conditions including an increased risk of dementia, depression, falls and even strokes. Untreated hearing loss also leads to longer hospitalisations, readmissions and more visits to casualty.

Duncan Collet-Fenson, Audiologist and Managing Director of Aston Hearing, says we should regularly check our hearing in the same way we get our eyesight checked. “If you realised your sight wasn’t as good as it was previously, you would probably go to the optician. Unfortunately, people tend to wait much too long to get their hearing assessed and the longer they wait, the harder it is to treat hearing loss. Your hearing should be checked throughout your life increasing to every three years between the ages of 45-60, every two years if you are over 60 or sooner if you suspect any sort of hearing loss.”

Age-Related Hearing Loss

Although hearing loss can affect anyone at any age there is a direct correlation with ageing; with around 50% of us above the age of 75 experiencing hearing loss. Age-related hearing loss often comes on slowly, making it harder for people to know when to take it seriously. There is often a 10-year delay between the onset of hearing loss in older people and them seeking help with the condition, due to failure to recognise the symptoms, denial and stigma, as well as some GPs failing to refer some adults who could benefit from hearing services.

Collet-Fenson says: “With age related hearing loss, the delicate hair cells of the inner ear are worn down, so they are not quite as effective as they used to be and need more volume to be stimulated, so you start to lose clarity.”

Fatigue is another factor that is not commonly discussed. The listening effort required with any degree of loss is considerable. “A comment we often hear as audiologists is ‘just the effort of listening – physically exhausts me’.

hearing aid in a man's open palm

Hearing Aids

But even when people are assessed and prescribed a hearing aid they often sit in a drawer. Collet-Fenson says: “Hearing aids are not the same as glasses. Unlike when you get a new pair of glasses and you can instantly see well; the brain needs to adjust to the heightened awareness of sound coming from the hearing aid. It is therefore difficult to restore full hearing with hearing aids immediately and the aids may need multiple adjustments. The right one though can make a truly significant difference and can be life changing.”

Hearing aids still carry the burden of huge social stigma and yet the truth is hearing technology is now extraordinary, for example we now have the ability to seamlessly stream phone calls, the TV and music straight to our hearing aid. Hearing aids are no longer big and obvious bits of plastic that clasp over your ears; many of them are barely visible. Some even allow you to text, translate languages, monitor your activity and even measure your blood pressure! Collet-Fenson says “Many more people could benefit from hearing aids than are currently doing so. We can only hope it won’t be long before attitudes start to change towards hearing technology.”

Dementia

Research has shown that many symptoms of hearing loss are easily misinterpreted as early signs of dementia such as memory loss, repetition, disorganisation, a feeling of vacancy, loss of confidence and concentration, trouble socialising and making poor judgements. All of these symptoms could be either as a result of hearing loss or dementia. In fact, hearing loss can increase the risk of dementia by up to five times, but evidence also suggests that hearing aids may reduce these risks.

Collet-Fenson says: “People who can’t hear well often become socially isolated and deprived of stimuli that keep the brain cognitively engaged thereby even potentially affecting brain function.”
Excessive wax build-up

Wax build up can be a major problem for effective hearing. Microsuction is the safest method of wax removal and is highly recommended over ear irrigation and it is also unnecessary for the client to use any oil beforehand to loosen the wax. Wax removal is often no longer carried out by GP’s on the NHS.

elderly woman talking and touching her hearing aid

Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL) – also known as sudden deafness – is an emergency and typically occurs in only one ear but can appear in both. This is a serious medical condition and requires immediate care, so if you have a sudden loss of hearing seek medical advice as soon as possible as it may just save your hearing.

“If you suddenly lost your sight you would most likely go to casualty but its extraordinary how many people accept sudden hearing loss without seeking help. 50% of people with SSHL recover within two weeks if they receive prompt treatment.”

Advice for general hearing difficulties from Duncan Collet-Fenson

  1. Make sure you are in the same room when you are talking to someone with hearing difficulties and preferably in front of them for optimal hearing, possible lip reading, as well as body language to provide visual cues.
  2. When watching TV with someone who has hearing difficulties, try to turn the TV volume from quiet to loud rather than from loud to quiet as you are more likely to get an outcome that all the family can enjoy.
  3. Do your best to interact and empower those with hearing loss. For example, choose restaurants with good acoustics and encourage them to get their hearing tested.

Collet-Fenson says “The fact is as we age, so do our ears. We will all need to be hearing well for longer in order to stay employed, stay social and as part of good overall health. By 2035, it is estimated there will be around 15.6 million people with hearing loss across the UK – which is one in five. We need to start prioritising our hearing now.”

By Aston Hearing