Hearing loss is a condition in which an individual is unable to hear clearly. Hearing loss can range from minimal to profound. According to the World Health Organisation (2023), more than 1.5 billion people suffer from hearing loss. This condition can either be congenital or acquired later in life. In children, it can occur due to various prenatal, natal, and post-natal causes, such as maternal infections, hereditary causes, congenital structural anomalies, hyperbilirubinemia, birth asphyxia, Rh incompatibility, convulsions, ear or head trauma, ear infections, exposure to noise, and medical conditions like diabetes. Depending on the affected part of the ear, hearing loss can be conductive, sensorineural, or mixed.
Consequences of hearing loss:
Hearing loss can significantly affect an individual’s cognition, speech development, academic performance, vocational choices, and social development. If hearing loss occurs before speech development, the child may have difficulty learning to speak, resulting in unclear speech. Children with profound hearing loss in both ears may not develop speech at all, leaving them unable to communicate verbally. This may lead to social isolation and difficulty learning in the classroom. Among adults, hearing loss may result in limited job opportunities, poor social interaction, low self-esteem, and reduced vocational choices. If left unattended, hearing loss may lead to neurological problems such as dementia.
Identification of hearing loss:
Early identification of hearing loss is essential to prevent its consequences. Audiologists play a vital role in identifying hearing loss, working with otolaryngologists and neurologists to diagnose and rehabilitate individuals with hearing loss. The Joint Committee of Infant Hearing (2018) recommends screening all newborns for hearing loss before they leave the hospital. Many behavioral and objective tests are available to identify hearing loss at an early age.
Management of hearing loss:
Once identified, appropriate management must begin, depending on the cause of hearing loss. If the hearing loss is due to infections, medications or surgery may be required. If it is sensorineural, listening devices like hearing aids, bone-anchored hearing aids, cochlear implants, auditory brainstem implants, or midbrain implants are recommended and fitted by an audiologist. Aural habilitation/rehabilitation is also required for individuals who need to learn or relearn speech and language skills.
In conclusion, the cause of hearing loss affects individuals of all ages, and its consequences can significantly impact their quality of life. Early identification and appropriate management are essential to prevent its consequences. Audiologists, otolaryngologists, and neurologists play vital roles in identifying and rehabilitating individuals with hearing loss.
Dr. Shubha Tak
Department of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology
Faculty of Allied Health Sciences