Understanding Deafness and Hearing Impairment
If you think hearing impairment is an ailment that affects the aged, you might need to reconsider your belief. You will be astonished to know that almost 466 million people around the globe suffer from hearing impairment. Interestingly, out of them, 34 million are children. So, it’s clear that hearing loss doesn’t only occur with age, but it might also be a natural disease for young people as well.
According to research, until 2050, more than 900 million people worldwide will experience hearing loss. Hearing loss might result due to many factors. One of the most dominant factors is the genetic causes, complications during birth, several infectious diseases, chronic ear infections, the usage of any particular drugs, exposure to excessive noise, aging, and many more.
Growing tendencies of hearing impairment
In the case of childhood hearing impairment, 60% of these generally arise because of preventable causes. Let's be honest! We are living in a world full of excessive noise, and the level of impact it has on our daily lives can be estimated from research data. About 1.1 billion young people who are aged between 12 and 35 years are often at risk of hearing impairment because of exposure to recreational noise. This might also be fuelled because of listening to music at a high volume through headphones. (1)
Different causes of hearing impairment and deafness
There are different causes of hearing impairment. However, these might be broadly categorized under two classes: congenital (since birth) or acquired.
Congenital hearing loss causes might lead to impairment that is generally present at birth or acquired soon after birth. Hearing loss might result due to hereditary and non-hereditary genetic factors. It might also arise because of several complications that the baby is exposed to during the mother's pregnancy. Here are those maternal factors that might lead to the development of hearing impairment among children:
- Infections during pregnancy, such as maternal rubella, syphilis, or other
- low birth weight
- birth asphyxia; is the lack of oxygen during birth.
- Inappropriate use of drugs during pregnancy. These drugs can be either aminoglycosides or cytotoxic drugs or antimalarial drugs, or diuretics
- for severe jaundice during the neonatal period. This particular condition might damage the newborn infant’s hearing nerve.
If someone acquires hearing impairment, they are generally caused due to the following factors:
- infectious diseases that include meningitis, mumps, and measles
- collection of fluid inside the ear or otitis media
- chronic ear infections
- use of certain medicines that are used for treating neonatal infections such as drug-resistant tuberculosis, malaria, and cancers
- injury to the ear or head
- excessive noise that includes occupational noise from machinery and explosions
- recreational exposure to loud sounds such as headphones at high volumes for prolonged periods or regular attendance at nightclubs, concerts, and sporting events
- wax blocking the ear canal
In the case of hearing impairment among children, chronic otitis media is the most common cause.
Prevention of hearing impairment
More than half of the global hearing impairment cases can be treated using popular healthcare measures. This means that they are preventable. So, there’s nothing to worry about. Here are some of the preventable causes of childhood hearing impairment:
- Infections such as mumps, meningitis, measles, cytomegalovirus infections, rubella, and chronic otitis media
- Complications at the time of birth
- Use of ototoxic medicines among expecting mothers
Here are some of the simplest strategies for the prevention of hearing loss are mentioned below:
- Children's immunization against childhood diseases, such as meningitis, measles, rubella, and mumps
- Immunizing women belonging to the reproductive age against rubella
- Preventing cytomegalovirus infections in pregnant women. This can be done through good hygiene.
- Strengthening of maternal and child health programs.
- You may also implement the following healthy ear care practices:
- Reducing exposure to loud sounds
- Developing and enforcing relevant legislation
- Encouraging individuals to use earplugs and noise-canceling headphones
- Screening of children for otitis media,
- Appropriate medical or surgical interventions,
- avoiding the use of specific drugs that are harmful unless these are being prescribed by your doctor
- Referring to infants at high risk for early assessment to ensure prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
- Implementation of a global WHO-ITU protocol for personal audio systems and apps. The governments and smartphone manufacturers and MP3 players can do this.
The norm, if adhered to, will help prevent hearing loss due to listening behaviors that are detrimental to hearing; and inform young people and the general population about hearing loss, its causes, prevention, and recognition.