World Hearing Day 2021

World Hearing Day logo

Each year the World Health Organization designates a day as World Hearing Day, which it uses to raise awareness on how to prevent hearing loss, and to promote ear and hearing care across the world. In 2021, World Hearing Day is the 3rd March.

 

We take many things in life for granted, until we start to lose it; hearing is one of those things. From our first moments as a baby when we are soothed by the sound of our parents’ voices, to our later years talking and sharing memories with our close family and friends, hearing is an essential part of our lives.

With advances in healthcare, life expectancy is increasing. In the UK we can now reasonably expect to live into our 80s. However, with a larger proportion of our lives spent in older age it is becoming more and more likely that most of us will develop hearing loss and live with it for many years. Even if we do not develop hearing loss ourselves, a close friend or family member will. At present there are estimated to be 12 million adults in the UK with a hearing loss; that’s one in five. As life expectancy increases this is predicted to rise to 14.2 million by 2035 [Royal National Institute for the Deaf estimates using Office for National Statistics population data].

Communication

Whilst our communication needs change throughout our lifetime, from the classroom, to the nightclub, to the office, and into older age, there is rarely a time in our lives when hearing well is unimportant to us.

Although they change for everyone over time, our communication needs at a given point in time are very individual too. Two people who share the same working environment, who both have a partner and two children, and both live on a quiet street, might appear on the face of it to have identical communication needs. However, this does not take into account the myriad of factors that can influence our ability to hear in individual situations, from the acoustics of the different listening environments, to the clarity of the speaker’s voice. Hearing healthcare professionals have a duty to use patient-centred care to understand those individual communication needs in order to provide the most effective help and advice.

Hearing Loss and Mental Health

The increased listening effort required if someone has a hearing loss can lead to mental fatigue, which can then adversely impact on other aspects of their life. Even with this increased effort they might not always be able to determine what is being said and if this occurs repeatedly can lead to the person becoming socially withdrawn and isolated. In some cases this can develop into depression.

As we hear, the ears are continually passing sound up to the brain for it to analyse. There is increasing evidence that the reduction in sound information passed to the brain that occurs with hearing loss is associated with a greater risk of developing dementia. As well as the obvious human cost of this, investing in hearing care earlier in life may also help avoid financial outlay on dementia care later in life.

Prevention

Exposure to a single extremely loud noise (such as an explosion) can irreparably damage hearing instantly, but moderately loud noise, such as that experienced in some occupations on the factory floor, or using power tools can slowly damage hearing over time. Increasingly, recreational noise exposure is becoming a widespread cause of hearing loss with repeated exposure to high volumes in live music venues or nightclubs, and use of headphones at high levels.

Recognising situations that put us at risk of hearing loss and taking steps to limit our exposure, by taking regular breaks or by wearing appropriate ear protection, is an essential first step towards prevention of early-onset hearing loss.

Diagnosis

Those at risk of developing hearing loss should have their hearing checked regularly by a hearing healthcare professional.

On average in the UK, it takes a person with hearing loss 10 years before seeking help or advice. However research is increasingly highlighting the importance of accessing help for hearing loss as soon as difficulties are noticed. As well as reducing the mental fatigue and social isolation that come hand-in-hand with hearing loss, the risk of dementia due to hearing loss can be reduced by use of hearing devices.

Early identification of hearing loss may also provide opportunities to tackle the underlying factors contributing to its cause. For example, medication or poorly managed health conditions which can contribute to worsening hearing can be addressed.

Management

Identification of a hearing loss is only part of the story. The first hearing aids were developed in the mid-20th century to help those soldiers who had developed hearing loss due to noise exposure in the Second World War. Since then, advances in hearing healthcare have been huge, and there has never been such an array of technologically advanced hearing devices available to help those with hearing loss. Many hearing aids now are able to communicate directly with smartphones so that phone calls and music can be streamed directly into the ears, with adjustments made to take into account any hearing loss. There are devices that can similarly link the TV to hearing aids, there are handheld remote controls so that those with poor dexterity can operate their hearing aids, and invisible hearing aids for those who wish to keep their hearing loss private. Cochlear implants help those whose hearing loss has progressed to be severe or profound in severity, and bone-anchored hearing devices are available for those whose hearing loss is due to poor sound transmission to the inner ear. In short, there are solutions to suit all types and degrees of hearing loss, and most importantly, to suit everyone’s individual communication needs.

If you are concerned about your hearing and want to find out more, please contact us.

Tinnitus Awareness Week

tinnitus

noun

tin·​ni·​tus 

A sensation of hearing a sound in the absence of any external sound

With over 1 in every 8 people in the UK reporting persistent tinnitus, almost everyone reading this Tinnitus Awareness Week blog is likely to have a friend, family member, or work colleague with tinnitus.

For many it is not a particularly intrusive sensation, and although they are aware of it, it does not affect their quality of life. Even if someone finds their tinnitus very noticeable at first, the brain will act to gradually reduce the sensation over time. However, for some there are factors that can contribute to tinnitus that can be rather more persistent and the impact is more significant; affecting concentration, hearing, sleep, and mood, amongst other aspects of their life.

How can I get help?

Sadly, many who seek help from their GP for persistent tinnitus are told that nothing can be done and that they must “learn to live with” the condition. Fortunately this is simply not true. Whilst there is no “cure” for tinnitus there are lots of effective management strategies that can lessen the impact that tinnitus has on someone’s life. Audiologists and Hearing Therapists are trained to offer support and interventions to help those struggling with persistent tinnitus.

At North East Hearing & Balance we support the British Tinnitus Association as corporate members. To mark Tinnitus Awareness Week, which this year runs from 1st-7th February, the BTA have released a short film about the impact of persistent tinnitus which you can watch here. The BTA are a fantastic source of support for people with tinnitus and the professionals who support them.

How Can I Avoid Persistent Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is often, although not always, associated with hearing loss; particularly hearing loss caused by excessive noise exposure. Noise exposure can come from a variety of sources, both occupational and recreational. Taking care of your hearing through protecting against exposure to noise will reduce the risk of causing persistent tinnitus.

Another common cause of tinnitus is ear wax. This can block the ear canal or restrict movement of the ear drum, causing temporary hearing loss and tinnitus. Sometimes this can be relieved by ear drops but, if this is not successful, may require removal by an Audiologist or Ear Nose & Throat doctor.

Hearing loss and tinnitus are also more common in those who have diabetes (which can cause damage to nerve endings in the ear) and conditions which cause poor circulation (which can restrict blood flow to the inner ear). Therefore taking steps in terms of diet and exercise to reduce your risk of acquiring diabetes and cardiovascular disease will also help to reduce your chances of developing persistent tinnitus.

If you are having problems with tinnitus and would like to talk to us to discuss how we can help, please contact us.

6 Myths about Ear Wax

Ear wax: we all have it. But what are the most common myths about this “sticky” subject?

Myth 1: Having wax means your ears are dirty

With its yellowish-brown appearance, you could be forgiven for mistaking wax for dirt, but wax is your friend!

Wax is produced to capture bacteria, dust and other airborne particles and then carry these out of the ear. In short, wax does the cleaning of your ears for you, and wiping the wax away from the outside of your ear with a tissue, cotton wool pad, or wet flannel is all that is required!

Myth 2: Cotton buds are the best ‘at home’ method of wax removal

It seems logical, right? Cotton is soft and couldn’t possibly do any harm if I give it a gentle wipe around the inside of my ear canal… Wrong! If you want to know the quickest way to fall out with your Audiologist or ENT doctor then use cotton buds!

Whilst using a cotton bud might pick up some of the wax from your ear canal walls, it is likely to force the majority of the wax deep into the ear, making it harder to migrate out of the ear naturally. Using cotton buds regularly can cause the wax to build up into a wall deep in the ear, making it more likely to block up the ear entirely and cause hearing loss.

Additionally, although cotton is generally quite gentle, the skin that lines the ear canal is particularly sensitive to abrasion even from cotton fibres. Abrasion of the skin can make the ear more prone to infection, which can cause pain, discharge, and hearing loss.

I have also personally seen several cotton bud tips which have become lodged deep in the ear, either through over-zealous “cleaning” or through faulty product manufacture.

Myth 3: Hopi ear candles are good for wax removal

Amazingly, putting a hollow tube of wax into the ear canal entrance and lighting it has been proven to do little to help remove wax from the ear! In fact, it has been shown that ear candles are more likely to deposit more wax into the ear canal; wax that is hot and can risk damaging the skin both inside and outside the ear.

Myth 4: Wax build-up only affects hearing

Although hearing loss is the most common side-effect of wax build up, wax can also cause tinnitus (a phantom sound in the ear, such as a ringing, buzzing, or humming), or sensations of pressure in the ear.

If the wax is very deep, and comes into contact with the eardrum, it can cause discomfort, pain, and even dizziness.

Myth 5: I should use drops every day to keep my ears clear

There are a multitude of different drops available at the pharmacy marketed for wax removal. Many of these drops contain active ingredients included to help break up the wax. However, in some drops the active ingredient is hydrogen peroxide (think bleaching your hair or teeth!), and so it is not surprising that long-term use risks damaging the sensitive skin in the ear canal. In fact long-term use of any ear drops is not advisable.

Myth 6: Using olive oil will get rid of my wax

Whilst olive oil is the safest product to use in your ears, and can be helpful in softening hard wax, it does not have any properties that break up the wax itself. However it can be a good idea to put a drop of oil in your ears once a week to keep the wax soft and prevent build up of dry wax.

Using a little oil before a professional wax removal procedure can make the process easier and more comfortable, but using too much can cause the wax to turn into a runny mess making removal very tricky! Repeatedly putting too much oil in one ear before bed and then lying on the opposite side can cause the wax to run deeper into your ear and collect near the eardrum, resulting in a higher risk of blockage and more difficult removal. It’s important to follow your hearing healthcare professional’s advice on olive oil use before wax removal.

If you think you have a problem with ear wax and would like to discuss this further, please contact us.

World Mental Health Day – 10th Oct 2020

Hearing Loss and Mental Health

Hearing is one of our five main senses, and losing it results in an enormous tax on our mental capacity. As a result of this, an untreated hearing problem can lead to serious issues with mental health; including:

  • Fatigue
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fear of social situations
  • Dementia

Hearing loss and tinnitus can create anxiety in everyday situations. They can cause individuals to feel frustrated and stressed, which can make the perceived hearing loss and tinnitus worse. Isolation can be a devastating effect of reduced hearing, affecting relationships with family, friends and colleagues.  Untreated hearing loss can also lead to cognitive decline as the auditory part of the brain is not being used as effectively. 

So what can we do?

Protect your hearing and look after your mental health.

The sooner someone seeks help for their hearing loss, the better. Treatment may include hearing devices but individuals may also benefit from communication tactics, information and support. Simply addressing the needs of the individual can have a huge impact on quality of life.

Collaborative working between Audiology practices, mental health services and GPs can ensure that effective and holistic support is provided.

We need to remove the barriers faced by those who are hard of hearing, and encourage support networks to protect against hearing loss and mental health problems.

Look out for your family, friends and loved ones.  If you believe they are suffering from the effects of hearing loss, encourage and support them to seek help.

If you want more information on how to take care of your mental well-being, Mind can offer advice and support.

Contact us if you have any questions or want to discuss how we can help.