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About Hearing Problems

• What to do about a hearing or ear health problem
• Hearing Loss and its Effects
• Tinnitus

• What to do about a hearing or ear health problem

The ear is a complex part of our anatomy and our hearing depends on the correct functioning of its many components from the outer ear to the brain. A detailed explanation is not possible here, however should you be reading this wanting to know what you should do about an issue with your ears we can make the following comments.

If you have had trauma (e.g. a blow to the ear) or pain near the ear or head, or for any other reason you have had a sudden loss of hearing you should consult your GP or the emergency ward at your nearest hospital in the first instance. Often pain is caused by an ear infection which may be medically treated. Sudden loss of hearing should be treated as a medical emergency. Your GP may send you for a hearing test if further investigation is required or you may be referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT).

On the other hand, if you suspect that you have been gradually losing hearing over a period of years with no associated pain, trauma or sudden changes you may wish to see an audiologist in the first instance for a hearing test. This may often be the case should you be aged over 55 years and notice you have gradually lost some of your hearing. Of course, prior discussion with your GP would also be helpful and usually after a hearing test a report would be sent to your GP as required.

Either way, GPs, audiologists and ENTs will work together to assess, treat and help you manage your hearing problem.

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• Hearing Loss and its Effects

Generally speaking, people with normal hearing donít have any problems hearing speech. At the other end of the spectrum, those with a severe hearing loss or worse cannot clearly hear others talking in most situations. For people in between, with mild to moderate hearing losses, there are some speakers and certain situations where it will be difficult to hear a conversation. Clearly some hearing losses are obvious and others may not be so easily detected. This is also true of the impact of hearing loss on a particular person.

We can all imagine what it would be like to not hear other people talking to us. It would be difficult to carry out many activities that most of us would normally perform during the course of any day. Usually people with more severe hearing losses realize this is the case and seek assistance, often in the form of a hearing aid. However those in the mild to moderate category often suffer more subtle problems and, because they can hear some things well, may sometimes even deny having a hearing problem. Classic indicators include having the TV or radio too loud, difficulty talking on the phone, believing that most people mumble, not following whatís being said in group conversations or in the presence of background noise.

Given the problems noted above, the effects of a hearing loss in adults can include reduced enjoyment of social situations or entertainment, poor work performance, moodiness, depression, withdrawal or isolation and financial problems. All of these can severely impact a personís quality of life.

If this is a familiar story for you or someone you know, we strongly recommend a hearing test as a first step on the road to a better quality of life.

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• Tinnitus

If we put a group of normally hearing people in a very quiet room where no sound is audible most will report hearing some sort of sound. The perception of hearing a sound that is not actually present is known as tinnitus.

There are a wide range of characteristics defining tinnitus including loud/soft, constant/periodic, one/both ears and the nature of the sound (ringing, pitch, buzzing, pulsing, chiming, cicada, water, roaring etc).

Anyone can acquire tinnitus. There are many possible causes of tinnitus but there is a great deal of uncertainty in this area. It is known to often be associated with hearing loss so usually one of the first steps in tinnitus investigation is a hearing test.

Tinnitus treatments are varied but usually involve one or more of the following approaches:

• Masking, distraction or contrast reduction Ė this involves listening to an external sound source to help reduce the perception of the tinnitus. Hearing aids can often help in this area by making the outside sounds louder for the wearer.

• Reducing negative emotions Ė If we have a negative reaction towards the tinnitus it will probably increase the negative effect on our lives and can actually increase the perceived volume of the sound. Reducing the effects of this cycle helps control the effect it has on a personís quality of life.

• Habituation Ė If we can remove negative emotions it is believed we can habituate to the tinnitus. This is getting used to the tinnitus to it just fades into the background much like the way people who live on a busy road or under the flight path get used to the noise around them.

Should you be suffering from tinnitus and feel that it is effecting your quality of life then please seek assistance from your GP or audiologist. Like hearing loss, sudden onset of tinnitus would be cause for a visit to the doctor.

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© Copyright Access Hearing 2009 - Last Update 1 June 2012