Hearing loss: Why you should do a hearing test
Hearing loss, also known as hearing impairment, is generally defined as a partial or total inability to hear. It may be caused by several factors, including genetics, ageing, exposure to noise, some infections, birth complications, trauma to the ear, and certain medications or toxins.
It is possible to suffer hearing loss in one ear (single-sided hearing loss) or both ears (bilateral hearing loss).
Good hearing is as important as good vision
We often notice, and sometimes even take immediate action when we experience blurred vision. The same cannot be said for our hearing. In contrast, we tend to knowingly or unknowingly neglect our hearing problems. But why is that so?
Our response time to vision impairment is usually shorter as the impact is felt immediately rather than gradually, and sooner rather than later.
Hence, we tend to take action when there is a deterioration in vision. However, hearing loss can occur gradually over time and you may not notice it until it becomes too severe.
What happens when we have hearing loss?
Hearing loss is more complex and is made more onerous by the fact that the impact of hearing loss is usually felt gradually over an extended period of time. Hence it is not easy to detect hearing loss in the beginning, unlike vision loss.
When we cannot hear well, we also tend to attribute it to the surroundings or the people around us. For example, we often hear the hearing-impaired lamenting:
- “I need to turn up the volume of the TV to hear what is being said but everyone else says it is too loud” or
- “I can’t carry on the conversation with my family because I am struggling to hear / they speak too softly”
Can you think of someone you know who may behave like that? I know my grandmother does!
Our speech consists of many different frequencies and tones. Hearing loss can make certain syllables and sounds harder to hear. When you have hearing loss, your ears may not be able to detect some high-pitched consonants like “f ”, “s” and “t”. while still being able to pick out low-pitched vowels relatively easily.
Your speech discerning ability is affected; you can still hear when others talk but you may not understand what they are saying anymore just like the example shown in the “Hearing Impairment” chart.
Types of hearing loss
There are 2 main types of hearing loss
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss is caused by problems in the outer and middle ear, which can prevent sounds from getting through to the inner ear.
The most common cause can be a build-up of wax in the
- ear canal
- perforated eardrums
- fluid in the middle ear
- damaged or defective middle ear bones (ossicles)
Possible treatments include
- hearing devices
- surgery (for selected cases caused by medical conditions)
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Causes of sensorineural hearing loss
This type of hearing loss happens when the delicate nerve fibres in the inner ear get damaged and stops transmitting sound properly.
It can be caused by
- excessive exposure to noise
- the natural processes of aging (Presbycusis).
For some, the sensory cells are already worn out at the age of 50 whereas others have only negligible hearing loss even at the age of 80.
Often, family members will notice age-related hearing loss before the person with the loss is really bothered by it.
Treatment for sensorineural hearing loss
This condition is permanent in most cases.
Did you know? Dementia is linked to hearing loss.
The diagram below shows how the risk of dementia increases with the severity of untreated hearing loss.
According to a study published in the journal Annals by the Academy of Medicine, Singapore, in April 2017, an estimated 422,000 older adults in Singapore suffer from hearing loss and over 100,000 may have a disabling hearing impairment. The numbers are expected to double by 2030.¹
A separate study in 2010 National Health Survey, showed that over 70% of people with disabling hearing loss did not think they have a problem. Surprisingly in Singapore, just 3% of people with hearing loss choose to wear hearing aids.
This means that more people will suffer from hearing loss unless they adopt preventive or rehabilitative measures.
Recent scientific publications also revealed that hearing loss affects not only hearing, but also the overall health of those with hearing loss. Indeed, cognitive ability, depression, anxiety, reduced quality of life (and more) have been associated with hearing loss.
A person with untreated hearing loss has a higher risk of accelerated mental decline due to less stimulation of the brain and withdrawal from social activities. This in turn leads to a higher risk of dementia.
Research shows that as many as 25% of cases of preventable dementia would benefit from treating hearing loss.
Early detection of hearing loss and intervention can potentially help lower the risk of mental decline and dementia.
If you (or your loved ones) have answered “Yes” to some or most of the questions, you know it is time to do a hearing test.
Going for a hearing test
A hearing test is a non-invasive and painless evaluation of a person’s ability to hear different sounds, pitches, and frequencies.
An audiologist or audiometrician will conduct the test using an audiometer and it is usually carried out in a soundproof environment. After the test is completed, your results will be explained to you.
It is recommended for those above 60 years of age to do a hearing test at least once every year.
- The Straits Times (19 June 2019) – Studies show risk factor but just 3.3% of people in Singapore with disabling hearing loss opt for such devices.
Common question on protecting our hearing
A hearing test will not be able to improve or reverse a hearing loss. However, it is the first step to take in the right direction, to empower yourself and take charge of your hearing health.
A proper assessment will enable you to find out the available options and make a well-informed decision on managing your hearing loss going forward. Whether it is to discuss treatment options such as hearing aids or surgery/cochlear implants, or even just measures to take better care of your hearing, do feel free to talk to an audiologist or audiometrician as he/she will be the best person to advise you.
We have partnered up with Hearing Partners to perform the hearing test at our Great World store.
Hearing Partners is one of the largest and most established hearing healthcare chains in Singapore.
All our audiologists and audiometricians are professionally trained and certified so you can be assured that you and your loved ones are in good hands.
- use ear protection whenever needed,
- stay away from loud noises as much as possible, and
- reduce the volume of our devices.
As a rule of thumb, the following situations put you in the danger zone:
- If you have to shout over background noise to make yourself heard.
- If the noise hurts your ears or makes them ring.
- If you find it difficult to hear for several hours after hearing the noise.
- Sound is measured in decibels (dB) and is considered harmful when they exceed 85dB. This is about the loudness of heavy traffic.
- Normal conversation in our daily lives would be at the 60dB level.
- The longer you are exposed to a loud noise and the closer you are to it, the higher the risk is of damage.