Frequently asked questions about hearing loss
WHAT IS HEARING LOSS ?
Someone who is not able to hear as well as someone with normal hearing is said to have hearing loss or be hearing impaired. Hearing loss may be mild, moderate, severe, or profound. It can affect one ear or both ears and leads to difficulty in hearing conversational speech, every day sounds or loud sounds.
Are there different types of hearing loss ?
Sensorineural Hearing Loss is the most common form of hearing loss and is permanent, but also preventable. It is sometimes referred to as NIHL – Noise Induced Hearing Loss. This type of loss indicates there is damage to either the tiny hair cells in the inner ear or to the nerve pathways to your brain. It can be mild, moderate, severe or profound. Higher-pitched tones may sound muffled. It may become difficult to pick out words against background noise.
Conductive Hearing Loss makes it difficult for sounds to be transmitted through the outer and middle ear making it difficult to hear soft sounds; louder sounds may be quite muffled. Causes are usually due to obstruction or trauma. Surgical or medicinal interventions can often fix this type of hearing loss.
Mixed Hearing Loss is any combination of Sensorineural or Conductive hearing loss, usually as the result of trauma. It can also occur gradually over time when one type of hearing loss is compounded by another.
Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is a hearing disorder in which the ears process sounds normally but the hearing centres and circuits of the brain don’t correctly process incoming information. This can affect understanding, especially in challenging listening situations such as in the presence of other distracting sound, or when listening to complex information or instructions. APD is thus often referred to as a hearing problem in which “the brain can’t hear”.
How do I know if I’m affected ?
Unless you have a moderate to severe hearing loss you’ll probably have no problem talking face to face with someone. However, you might find it difficult hearing someone in a noisy environment or from a distance. You may also find some higher pitched voices or words hard to pick up. You may need to listen to the television or radio at a volume that is too loud for others and you may not always hear the telephone or doorbell when it rings.
What's the difference between Being deaf and HAVING A hearing LOSS?
Being Deaf and having a Hearing Loss are not the same….
Deaf (uppercase D) refers to people who identify as culturally Deaf and usually engage with the Deaf Community and use Sign Language as their main form of communication. Deaf people mostly cannot hear any sounds.
New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) is the third official language of NZ and is visual using both hands, as well as lip patterns and facial movement to cue the signs. NZSL has its own unique grammar.
Having a Hearing Loss refers to people who have a form of hearing loss that precludes them from hearing in certain situations. Their Hearing Loss can range from mild, moderate, moderately severe, severe, to profound, as below:
Mild hearing loss will mean people will have some issues keeping up with conversations, especially in noisy surroundings.
Moderate hearing loss will mean people will have problems hearing in a lot of situations including keeping up with conversations. Hearing aids will be of great benefit.
Moderately severe hearing loss will mean people will have a lot of trouble hearing in most situations when not using hearing aids.
Severe Hearing Loss will mean people find it almost impossible to hear in any situation and will require powerful hearing aids. Often people in this category rely heavily on lip reading as well as using their hearing aids.
Profound Hearing Loss will mean people have a very weak sense of hearing and need incredibly strong hearing aids or a Cochlear Implant. May rely on lip reading and some use sign language.
How can I hear better when with a group of people ?
Listening in a group
This information has been collected from people who have hearing difficulties in group situations
Its all about tactics
A number of tactics to help minimize the confusing affect of background noise are mentioned. You have probably developed some tactics of your own. Remember that you can't expect to hear everything that is said - nobody does, but you may be able to improve your ability to hear by trying some of these tactics.
In each of the following situations a few tactics are outlined. Can you add to them?
Of course, avoid noisy areas like the middle of the room, near the kitchen and close to music. Choose a quiet corner and perhaps a smaller group of people. You may be able to find a good speaker to concentrate on. Alternatively, handing around food and drinks helps a person to circulate.
It is useful to have a copy of the agenda first. Sitting next to someone who is willing to let you use his notes can also help.
Do you always position yourself to get the best vantage of the chairperson or main speaker at the meeting? Letting the committee know of your hearing difficulties and informing them how they can help to minimise these difficulties can also be of assistance. You may like to try out one of the special aids discussed elsewhere.
Find the best position to sit. Try the second or third row where you get a clear sound - it is good for speech reading and you can "tune in" to the visual clues of the people in the row in front.
You can control the environment at home by:
At the theatre
Find out about the theatre before you go:
Parties at home
Decide the number of people that you can handle comfortably. If you are dining, arrange guests around the table to best suit your hearing loss. Arrange lighting so you can see clearly.
Explain your loss to people and tell them how they might help you minimise difficulties. Let them know when they have helped you. People need to be aware of the right things they do. Asking for repeats creatively is one way of achieving these goals. (e.g. "I'm interested in what you're saying, but I need to see your lips clearly.") Don't expect to hear everything. Try initiating conversation - introduce a topic for discussion. Useful questions, which require yes or no answers or which require the speaker to repeat only the parts of a conversation that you have missed, are worth trying.
For example: "Where did you say you are going after work tomorrow?" is often better than "What did you say?" Ask for the exact information you require, rather than whole statements. As well as using tactics, you may also like to investigate special aids.
What is Tinnitus ?
Tinnitus is the technical word for 'head noises'. It is derived from the Latin 'tinnere' meaning 'a ringing'.
How many experience it?
Tinnitus is experienced by most people at some time, recognised as early as Hippocrates, 2500 years ago.
What kinds of noises are heard?
It covers a wide variety of noises, including buzzing, ringing, whistling, rushing etc.
Tinnitus Relief Quiz
What effect does listening to loud music have on me?
A local woman went to a pub rock gig and it cost her her hearing. Today she is among 700,000 New Zealanders with an invisible disability... By Linda Todd
Being too polite to leave a loud rock concert cost Bernadette Collins her hearing. When she was 28 years old Bernadette attended a two-hour rock concert at a pub. The exposure to loud noise caused her an initial limited loss of hearing, and later profound hearing loss.
Bernadette cannot hear her alarm clock or the phone ring and she relies on hearing aids and lip-reading to communicate. Her sudden loss of hearing was a shock.
"I did not accept that a one-off like that could have damaged my hearing permanently"
Bernadette, of Lincoln, never considered she was disabled until she had to give up her job as a primary teacher in 1998.
"Teaching is a very demanding job anyway – it was stressful having to concentrate on having to hear with my hearing aid. Most people just hear, they don't have to think."
This was a low point in her life. "I loved teaching. I thought I was going to be old and poor and deaf," she said. Bernadette finds people's perceptions of her differ because she is hearing impaired.
"People often think you are intellectually impaired if you make an inappropriate response because you have misheard something."
Bernadette began work as a hearing therapist after giving up teaching, and she said people were often surprised she could be hearing impaired and have a career. She finds her hearing impairment socially isolating.
"It is difficult when you go out for dinner or at family gatherings and the acoustics are bad."
Simple pleasures like going to the theatre become difficult when the actors face away from the audience. Bernadette said the biggest issue for people who are hearing impaired is acceptance.
"We don't want sympathy, we want understanding. I want people to see me as a person first and foremost, not as a hearing impaired person."
Funding is another major issue. Although equipment and aids are improving, they can be costly. But Bernadette points out that many hearing impairments could be prevented for much less of a cost.
"If I had spent $30 on acoustic ear plugs I would not need $7000 worth of hearing equipment now. My politeness and ignorance cost me my hearing and halved my earning capacity."
Take care of your hearing
More than 700,000 New Zealanders are affected by this invisible disability which means they may not answer when you call their name. The social ramifications of hearing impairment are far reaching for the person and their family.
Lack of communication threatens the core qualities of life and can result in emotional stress, depression and feelings of isolation. One of the groups at greatest risk of suffering the effects of loud noise are our youth. Research shows attending a rock concert can cause damage in fewer than 10 seconds.
Is there any financial help available to purchase hearing aids ?
Funding for hearing aids
Accident Compensation Commission (ACC) Scheme
If an individual’s hearing loss has occurred because of prolonged occupational noise exposure or a sudden trauma, then that person may be eligible for funding towards hearing aids through the ACC scheme.
The first step to take is to obtain a hearing test with a registered MNZAS Audiologist who will be able to ascertain whether the pattern of hearing loss indicates exposure to prolonged or extreme noise. If this is the case, the audiologist will then recommend that an ACC claim be initiated. This process involves a visit to a General Practitioner or other registered Medical Specialist who will lodge the claim on the individual’s behalf. Once the claim is lodged, an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) surgeon must examine the individual. An ENT is the only person who is able to make a specific diagnosis of noise-induced hearing loss.
Once an ACC claim is approved, some funding will be met by the ACC scheme to provide the appropriate hearing aids. ACC will not provide any lump sum compensation payments.
It is imperative that anyone who believes they have suffered hearing loss associated with loud noise exposure act immediately. This is the case even if the individual believes they do not yet require hearing aids. If left too late after the believed exposure event, then it could be more difficult to prove that the hearing loss was a result of exposure to noise alone, as opposed to a natural hearing deterioration over time with age.
For further information on the ACC process, visit their website - www.acc.co.nz
Environmental Support Services
Partial funding towards the purchase of hearing aids for those over 16 years of age may be provided via ACCESSABLE NZ under certain circumstances that include:
War Pensions Scheme (Administered by WINZ)
Individuals who have served in the armed forces and who have been exposed to excessive noise as a result of their military service may be eligible for hearing aid funding. An individual who fits this criteria must receive a War Pension and be assessed by an ENT specialist or an MNZAS Audiologist to determine that hearing aids are necessary.
Visit the WINZ website for further information about eligibility and the necessary processes - www.workandincome.govt.nz
Ministry of Health Hearing Aid Subsidy
All adults who do not qualify for funding via ACC, Environment Support Services or War Pensions may be eligible for a Hearing Aid Subsidy.
The subsidy is currently set at $511 (including gst) per hearing aid and is available to individuals once every 6 years. Your MNZAS Audiologist will be able to assist with organising this subsidy.
Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ)
Individuals who receive a benefit from Work and Income NZ are able to apply for an interest-free loan of up to $1000 to assist with the purchase of hearing aids. The loan is deducted gradually from future benefit payments. Apply to your local WINZ or visit their web-site for further information - www.workandincome.govt.nz
Children's Hearing Aids are FREE
For children up to 21 years old and in fulltime education, hearing aids are funded at no cost to their families via ACCESSABLE NZ - the Ministry of Health accredited hearing aid services funding scheme. This funding is available for new as well as replacement hearing aids and also includes repairs and battery supplies.
Other Funding Information
Some hospitals and private practices may allow individuals to repay the cost of a hearing aid over time.
For those unable to afford a new hearing aid, public hospitals and private practices may have available donated second-hand hearing aids that can be loaned temporarily and sometimes permanently. However these aids can be a compromise and may not provide the individual with the best options.
New Zealand Audiological Society Hearing Aid Bank
For individuals who do not qualify for any assistance as listed and who are in extreme financial difficulty (evidence is required) the NZ Audiological Society may be able to help. They may be able to apply to the society’s Hearing Aid Bank where aids are donated by some hearing aid companies.
A limited amount of money may be available to assist those who are in severe need.
Contact your MNZAS Audiologist for further information if you believe you meet this criteria.
GP’s who are Partnership Health members may be able to apply for funding in cases of hardship. See your own GP for further information.
Some finance companies may provide funding for Hearing Aids.
What causes hearing loss ?
Many hearing impaired people were born with good hearing which deteriorated later in life. Others were born deaf.
Some children are born deaf. If a mother had rubella (German measles) during the third month of her pregnancy there is a risk that the baby will be born deaf. If a birth is difficult and the baby doesn't get enough oxygen, deafness can also occur. Some families have a history of deafness and it is passed from one generation to the next. Often the cause of deafness is unknown.
Wax build up.
Wax is produced naturally in the ear canal to help keep it clean and to protect the eardrum. Some people produce more wax than others and it can build up to block the ear canal and so reduce hearing. In most cases, the wax is easily removed by an Ear Nurse or ENT Specialist. Don't try to remove the wax from your ears yourself. You risk pushing it further into your ear or damaging the eardrum and causing permanent hearing loss.
Ear infection can cause conductive hearing loss. In a child, this can seriously affect progress at school. But ear infections can be satisfactorily treated. If you or your child has a painful or discharging ear, see your doctor.
A number of drugs can damage your hearing. If you are taking medicine and you have developed noises in your head or ears, or you think your hearing is affected, tell your doctor as soon as possible.
Damage to the Eardrum
Damage to the eardrum is a common cause of hearing loss. You should never put any foreign objects in your ear canal. A perforated or ruptured eardrum will cause some hearing loss. Sometimes the eardrum heals itself naturally or can be repaired with surgery. If you have a perforated eardrum you must wear earplugs when swimming to stop water entering your ear.
Accidents can cause hearing loss. If you received head injuries in an accident your hearing could be damaged. Loud blasts can rupture or perforate the eardrums. So can a fall in a high speed water sport like water skiing.
As we age, changes in the inner ear cause the clarity of our hearing to be reduced. High pitched sounds are always the first to become difficult to hear. Almost everyone experiences some hearing loss as they age. It's important that you don't just put up with it and do nothing, or you will get less and less enjoyment out of life.
Also, recent research shows people with moderate to severe hearing loss are up to 5 times as likely to develop dementia if they don’t treat hearing loss with good hearing aids. According to several major studies, older adults with untreated hearing loss—especially men— are more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease and dementia, compared to those with normal hearing.
It is also important to treat hearing loss with good hearing aids so you keep your hearing pathways in the brain active and stimulated. The longer you leave treating your hearing loss the more those pathways may shut down thus making future treatment results potentially slower.
Excessive noise exposure is a known cause of hearing loss. We refer to hearing loss due to exposure to loud noise as Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL).
Use your common sense when it comes to loud noise. Being exposed to loud noise for a short time may cause temporary hearing loss. But very loud, sudden, long or repeated exposure will cause permanent hearing loss. The louder the noise, the less time you can be subjected to it before your hearing is damaged.
It's important to realise that loud noise causes a sensorineural hearing loss. It cannot be cured. It is generally accompanied by tinnitus, or 'ringing in the ears'.
Always wear earplugs, or ear muffs whenever you're in a noisy environment. This includes noisy activities such as mowing the lawns and using power tools, as well as working in industrial environments.
Be sensible about the volume at which you listen to music, especially with personal stereos where the headphones are plugged straight into your ears.
Keep volume at round 70% of maximum volume output; don't listen for too long - it is important to give your ears a break.
what are the DIFFERENT noise levels ?
Noise levels comparison
The amount of time you can be subjected to loud noise without causing damage to your hearing decreases with higher levels of noise.
For every 3dB increase in sound safe exposure, time halves.
Table of approximate relative noise pressure
140 dB Short Gun Blast Above 130 dB may cause pain
130 dB Jet taking off Above 115 dB damage is instant
110 dB Rock group, Trail bike Brief exposure over 80 dB can cause temporary hearing loss which becomes permanent on continuous exposure
100 dB Pneumatic drill
95 dB Lawn mover
90 dB Heavy truck
80 dB Busy street Below 80 dB an eight hour day can be worked without using ear protection 70 dB Noisy traffic
40 dB Quite office/home at night
30 dB Soft whisper
15 dB Average threshold of hearing
0 dB Acute threshold of hearing
How can i prevent hearing loss ?
Some tips to help prevent the loss of hearing:
How can babies be protected from hearing loss ?
Babies hearing checklist
Parents are usually the first to notice if their child has a hearing problem. The sooner this is discovered, the sooner something can be done to help.
The following checklist will show what a child should be doing at each age. More than one or two NO's may mean getting a checkup through an audiologist. The checklist should be taken to the nurse or doctor.
When there is a sudden loud noise, does your baby:
Does your baby:
Does your baby:
Does you baby:
Does your child:
Does your child:
Does your child:
How is hearing loss treated ?
If you experience a sudden and severe loss of hearing, see a doctor urgently. Immediate treatment may save hearing, which might have otherwise been lost.
Drugs are often prescribed to clear up ear infection or underlying nose problems which may lead to hearing loss. Drugs may help sudden sensorineural hearing loss but rarely help other types of sensorineural deafness.
There are a wide range of operations, which correct the problems occurring in the middle ear. In many cases hearing may be almost fully restored. Unfortunately an operation can rarely help someone with sensorineural hearing loss except for cochlear implants in those with profound deafness.
For many people hearing aids are the best help available. Using hearing aids is really no different to wearing glasses. Don't be put off by the idea that it will make you look older or less attractive. You'll be able to enjoy life far more if you can hear what's going on. Also your family & friends will appreciate being able to communicate with you and have you actively taking part in activities.
Make sure your hearing aids are fitted by an audiologist who is a member of the NZ Audiological Society.
how can i cope with hearing loss ?
If you ever have a sudden and severe loss of hearing, see a doctor urgently. Immediate treatment may save hearing, which might have otherwise been lost.
Drugs are often prescribed to clear up ear infection or underlying nose problems which lead to hearing loss. Drugs may help sudden sensorineural hearing loss but rarely help other types of sensorineural deafness.
There are a wide range of operations, which correct the problems occurring in the middle ear. In many cases hearing can be almost fully restored. Unfortunately an operation can rarely help someone with sensorineural hearing loss except for cochlear implants in those with profound deafness.
For many people hearing aids are the best help available. Using hearing aids is really no different to wearing glasses. Don't be put off by the idea that it will make you look older or less attractive. You'll be able to enjoy life far more if you can hear what's going on. Also your family and friends will appreciate being able to communicate with you and having you take part fully in activities and events.
Make sure your hearing aids are fitted by an audiologist who is a member of the NZ Audiological Society.
How do I get the most benefit from my hearing aids ?
Firstly, perseverance is vital and is KEY.
Don't be tempted after a couple of days to relegate your new Hearing Aids to the drawer because you are not getting the results you had hoped for. Your brain needs time to adjust to hearing better again - just like a muscle you haven't used in a while needs to build-up to cope with the demands you are placing on it. Your brain needs to re-establish hearing pathways that may not have been stimulated for a long time. Give it a decent chance!
The first step is the hardest
Don't be afraid to let other people see that you are wearing a hearing aid. It is a sign of an active and modern outlook and shows consideration towards your family and friends.
This approach helps you to secure the necessary assistance from your surroundings, which is of great value - particularly at the beginning.
If you have had a hearing loss for quite some time, there will be various sounds and noises which you may have forgotten altogether. Now that you have a hearing aid you may be surprised at hearing all these sounds again. You must now learn, once again, to distinguish sounds, picking out those you need and ignoring the rest. This will take some time, but your patience will be rewarded.
Using your hearing aid
Only one way
PRACTICE . PRACTICE . PRACTICE
There are no shortcuts or clever methods by which to obtain immediate and full benefit from your hearing aids. Only energetic and determined practice, which may take from 6 weeks to 3 months, will lead to maximum results from your hearing aid. The sooner you get accustomed to wearing the instrument every day and all day, the sooner you will succeed. Don't give up on any account. If you feel uncertain or doubtful about the correct use of the instrument - do not hesitate to consult Hearing Support or your Audiologist.
How do I purchase hearing aids ?
The purchase of a hearing aid is a significant cash expense. May we suggest that you ask your Audiologist the following questions before you commit yourself to purchasing a hearing aid?
Where can i find more information about hearing loss?
New Zealand Associations
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