World Hearing Day: Are you sure you’re hearing everything?

Posted on March 04, 2019

If you’re having difficulty following conversations in noisy places like restaurants, or find that you’re having to turn up the volume of the TV, it may be time to have your hearing tested, as you could be experiencing the first signs of hearing impairment.

Untreated hearing loss is linked to greater social isolation, depression, falls and even an increased risk of dementia.

World Hearing Day, on 3 March, is an initiative by the World Health Organisation that sheds light on the importance of the early detection of hearing loss.

In keeping with this year’s theme of having regular checks, the University of Pretoria, in partnership with the hearX group, has developed and validated the national hearing test, hearZA – a free app that offers users a quick screening of their hearing ability.

About 466 million people around the world have permanent hearing loss (WHO, 2019), making it one of the most common disabilities and a leading burden of disease (Lancet, 2018). In South Africa, more than 3 million people are affected and as many as one in three people over the age of 65 is estimated to experience the condition.

Tinnitus, a ringing sensation in the ears, is a common symptom of hearing loss, which is also often accompanied by fatigue as more effort is required in conversations and meetings. Left untreated, hearing problems have a gradual but pervasive influence on social interactions, cause relational frustrations and influence cognitive decline.

Men are more likely to have hearing problems and, according to research, also more hesitant to take action. In fact, the number one dementia risk factor in midlife that can be modified is hearing loss (Lancet, 2017).

Having your hearing checked from time to time – especially if you’re over 50, work in a noisy environment or listen to loud music for long periods (WHO, 2019) – means you can make informed decisions to monitor it or take steps towards better hearing.

The innovative hearZA app (available on iOS and Android) offers users a two-minute hearing screening – if a problem is identified, users can connect directly with an audiologist through the app by accessing the national associations for audiologists: South African Association of Audiologists (SAAA) and the South African Speech-Language-Hearing Association (SASLHA).

We live in a time when advances in hearing interventions, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants, can help you to continue engaging all your senses. Make sure that you, or your loved one, have your hearing checked this World Hearing Day!

De Wet Swanepoel is Professor in Audiology at the University of Pretoria, Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Audiology, and co-founder of the hearX group. His work capitalises on information and communication technologies to explore, develop and evaluate innovative solutions and service-delivery models to improve ear and hearing care. World Hearing Day is commemorated globally on 3 March.

- Author De Wet Swanepoel

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