Sorry, can you say that again?
Do you constantly find people just don't speak clearly enough these days? Is it easier to follow a conversation if you are looking directly at the person speaking to you? Do you struggle to hear people during noisy parties? It could be your hearing letting you down - but you're not alone. Millions of people suffer from hearing loss, yet most consider even simple household DIY problems more important to tackle before getting help, according to new research.
This neglect of one of our key senses, however, may leave many people unnecessarily leading isolated, difficult lives and prone to associated symptoms like depression, says audiologist Heather Pitchford. A recent study from the UK says that people are seven times more likely to check their teeth than their hearing, and would give priority to sorting out a faulty television or leaky tap rather than arranging a hearing test.
"It's staggering, but because hearing loss can be gradual over years, an enormous number of people are completely unaware they have a problem. They've simply become used to impaired hearing," says Pitchford. "There will be signs if it's severe. They may start to limit their life to exclude social activities that make them feel uncomfortable or even depressed because they can't hear properly - like going to the cinema, playing sport or even give up at work. But many won't consciously put those life-limiting decisions down to their hearing problems."
The study also highlighted that a significant proportion refuse to admit or face hearing loss, viewing it as an unwelcome sign of ageing. "Some people are too embarrassed, or sometimes too frightened to face the fact that they can't hear properly. They'll start to make excuses - saying that other people mumble or don't talk clearly, or that too much noise around them makes it difficult for them to hear," adds Pitchford.
But statistics show that we all really need to take our hearing more seriously, as over half of all people aged over 60 are hard of hearing or deaf, and it happens to be the most common chronic condition in older people after arthritis and blood pressure.
There are many causes of hearing loss, resulting from damage or disruption to any part of the hearing system. These range from wax blocking the ear canal, causing a temporary problem, to age-related changes to the sensory cells of the cochlea (presbyacusis), or otosclerosis - a condition in which the ossicles of the middle ear harden and become less mobile, through to head injury or brain damage.
Certain drugs, such as some powerful antibiotics, can cause permanent hearing loss. At high doses, even aspirin is thought to cause temporary tinnitus - a persistent ringing in the ears. Treatment depends on the cause. Infections or blockages of the ear can be treated and cleared, eardrums can be repaired surgically, and ossicles affected by otosclerosis can be replaced with artificial bones.
With age related hearing loss, a hearing aid could be the answer to help you hear everyday sounds like the telephone and make it easier to follow conversations with other people. Contact your GP for more advice.
IT'S A NOISY WORLD - BE CAREFUL
>> Excessive noise is an important cause of a particular pattern of hearing loss, contributing to problems for up to 50 per cent of deaf people. Avoiding it can help reduce the risk of deafness.
>> Although loud music is often blamed (and MP3 players are said to be storing up an epidemic of deafness in years to come) research has also blames aircraft noise, sports shooting and even cordless telephones for hearing loss.
>> Research found that 90 per cent of young people experience hearing damage after a night out, and two thirds listen to MP3 players at dangerously loud volumes.
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