When an individual has hearing loss, the person would most often be referred to an audiologist for a diagnosis of the type of hearing loss, severity of hearing loss, site of problem and non-medical management.
An audiologist is an allied health professional specializing in hearing and non-medical management of the auditory and balance systems. An audiologist is trained in the prevention, identification and assessment of hearing loss and other related disabilities (like balance disorders) as well treatment and (re)habilitative services.
Some types of hearing loss can be prevented. A good example would be noise induced hearing loss. This is a loss of hearing due to continuous exposure to loud levels of sounds. Traditionally, this type of hearing loss is often seen in factory workers, soldiers and musicians. Nowadays, more of this type of hearing loss is detected due changes in lifestyles such as overexposure to Walkman and MP3 players at very high volume levels. The increasing popularity of loud bands and nightclubs also might contribute to this trend.
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The prevention of these types of hearing loss would include educating and increasing general awareness on hearing loss and their causes, the suggestion to factories on measures to control sound levels and the advocacy of usage of hearing protection devices when exposed to loud levels of sound and noise.
Identification of hearing loss is most often done by screening for hearing loss. This is usually done for population groups with high incidences of hearing loss such as newborns, school going children and the aged due to the simple reason that sometimes hearing loss cannot be detected and early identification would lead to better intervention and outcome. In fact, in many states in the USA and across Europe, Universal Newborn Hearing Screening is mandatory to identify hearing loss in newborns as soon as possible after birth.
Studies show that hearing loss in children if identified and diagnosed early so that intervention could begin before 6 months of age results in speech and language development that is on par with normal hearing children. Currently in Malaysia, newborn hearing screening is done only in a few hospitals.
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The management of hearing loss is most often a team work that involves the individual or parents of a child with hearing loss, audiologist, paediatrician, Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) Surgeon, Speech Language Pathologist and other specialist based on needs of the individual. For example, after diagnosing the hearing loss, the patient might be referred to an ENT surgeon for problems that can be treated with medications or surgery. In other cases, a referral to the Speech Language Pathologist would be made to address speech and language delay.
However, in a lot of cases, the hearing loss might be permanent and cannot be cured. In these cases, the audiologist would recommend and fit amplification devices such as hearing aids or suggest cochlear implants for more severe-profound cases.
What follows would be (re)habilitation process whereby the individual with hearing impairment is trained to listen with their amplification devices. This might be a long and trying process as the sounds from hearing aid might be different than what the individual is used to or the processing of sound by the cochlea is abnormal causing a lot of fine-tuning to be done before the hearing aids or cochlear implant is accepted.
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The notion that a deaf individual cannot hear and a deaf child is also destined to be mute is outdated. Technological advancements and knowledge has given these individuals the key to overcome the handicapping effects of hearing loss. However, the only way that this can be achieved is if each and every one of us knows what hearing loss is and what we have to do in order to help someone with hearing loss to address their problem.
Dr. Shailendra Sivalingam
Ear, Nose & Throat Surgeon
Mr. Saravanan Selanduray
Ms. Alleya Cheng