Sound advice  

Hearing loss affects one in six of the population (that’s more than 11 million people in the UK!) and yet all too often its onset is ignored or trivialised. Paul Scigala of Sound Advice Hearing believes it’s time we took our hearing more seriously

First off Paul, the fact that a sixth of us suffer from hearing loss will come as a surprise to many. 
It may well do – and we’re an ever-aging population, so this proportion is on the increase. Sadly hearing loss is often a hidden handicap because people prefer to ignore it or blame others. Most people aren’t aware of just how big a contributor noise is to hearing loss. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that noise exposure is a major cause of permanent hearing. Recent research confirms that it is the second most common form of hearing loss after age-related hearing loss – and it’s avoidable. This is especially true among younger people, where listening to loud music is a common risk factor. They are damaging their hearing by not wearing earplugs at gigs, festivals and nightclubs and by turning up the volume on their personal music devices to dangerous levels.

Are you saying our noisier society is partly to blame for these high figures?
It is. We need to take hearing protection more seriously. In industry, employers are obliged to take action to protect an employee’s hearing. If noise exposure reaches 80 decibels (dB) they are legally required to start taking action. This may not seem very loud – the same as general traffic. Decibels are a logarithmic scale. Because of the way our ears work a 3dB change in noise level actually doubles the noise! So once we reach sound levels of 85dB every 3dB increase in sound halves the length of time your ears can handle the noise before damage could start. Hearing loss is usually gradual. It may be that exposure to noise over the years combines with ageing or other factors such as chemical imbalances within the body, strong medications, blood supply etc. to cause its onset. Those living with someone suffering from hearing loss may complain about the TV being too loud. Or the sufferer may not be able to keep up with group conversations. They might have trouble on the phone or ask people to repeat themselves. Eventually everything becomes muffled and people find it difficult to catch sounds like ‘t’, ‘d’ and ‘s’, so they confuse similar words – say ‘yes’ when the should say ‘no’ etc.

Noise is so pervasive. Should we be being a lot more cautious then?
Noise can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss. People often experience temporary deafness after leaving a noisy place such as a concert. Although hearing recovers within a few hours, this should not be ignored. It is a sign that if you continue to be exposed it could permanently damage your hearing.

So when you come back from a really noisy bar and have a faint whistling in your ears, could that be a sign of damage?
It’s probably a warning. What you’re describing is a form of tinnitus. It is a medical term to describe the perception of noise either in one ear, both ears, or in the head, when there is no corresponding external sound. It is often perceived as a whistling, buzzing or humming. Tinnitus is a common condition that can happen at any age but is more common in people over 65. It’s estimated that 10% of adults have a mild form of tinnitus. It’s is not a disease or an illness; tinnitus is usually a symptom of a problem within your hearing pathway and there may be several underlying factors, such as exposure to loud noise, earwax, medication and so on. There is no single treatment and research to find a cure is ongoing. However, counselling and certain therapies may help. If you suffer from tinnitus and have some degree of hearing loss then hearing aids could also help.

You mentioned that hearing loss is often a hidden handicap. I guess broaching the subject with a loved one who is trying to hide their loss could be tricky.
It is because most people are in denial. It probably takes 10 to 15 years before noticeable deterioration occurs. We regularly have our eyes and teeth tested, but hearing is one of those areas that’s missed. Hearing loss tends to affect others more than the sufferer. That’s because it often happens so gradually that we get used to it. The body becomes accustomed and you modify your behaviour – turning up the TV or saying ‘excuse me?’ repeatedly. The problem is no-one likes to admit they’ve got a hearing problem because there’s still a stigma attached. People think hearing aids are clumsy or that they’ll be treated differently, or hearing loss is associated with ‘old people’ – which isn’t always the case. The first thing to do is to get a hearing assessment done because you’re not going to know whether you’ve got a hearing problem until you physically have your hearing assessed.

Sound Advice Hearing offers free assessments. What form do these assessments take?
Each person’s hearing is unique so we base this on your listening needs, type of hearing loss and lifestyle. Each assessment is carried out by one of our fully experienced hearing aid audiologists. We run through a case history to establish whether there could be underlying factors causing hearing loss: medications, being subjected to noise or your medical history, for example. We then carry out a full examination to check on the health and condition of the outer ear, checking for perforations, infections, obstructive wax etc. We can also show a video image of the inside of your ear canal. We then run an audiometric test within a soundproof booth, which is important to establish accurate results. Different tones and sound intensities are presented into one ear at a time, enabling us to plot a graph of someone’s hearing. With the assessment complete we can then advise people accordingly. Because we are ‘independent’ all our advice is free and impartial – there’s no obligation. If a hearing loss is present then it’s up to the individual what to do next. If they want to correct their hearing they can look at a solution privately with ourselves. They will have complete choice with access to all the latest technology, styles and discreetness, or they can take the NHS route.

There are so many different styles of hearing aids to choose from. Has the accompanying technology advanced accordingly?
Technology is constantly evolving, just like computers. Hearing aids used to be analogue and produced a linear type of amplification. Now everything is digital, so we can manipulate the amplification from the point of input to the point of output. It means we can be much more refined in how we map someone’s specific hearing loss and in the solution provided in response to that. Basically hearing aids provide the brain with information and it is the brain that determines what we hear. Differing levels of technology will therefore provide different levels of information that the brain can work with. So providing the brain with as much correct information as possible will give you the best chance of being able to hear well. This is why it’s so important to act promptly on hearing loss, because the longer you leave it the more time the brain has to degenerate in this area, which means it may not be able to process information as well as it should.

Some hearing aids are remarkably discreet aren’t they?
Technology has seen the development of very discrete hearing aids. Not all hearing aids suit every type of hearing loss, so there are certain losses that preclude people from wearing these types of hearing aids. But, yes, the tiny ones can now disappear out of sight. Technology has also moved on to wireless and Bluetooth technologies, which means you can connect hearing aids to mobile telephones, landlines, televisions, computers – there are even mobile phone apps that can control hearing aid settings so that if, for instance, you went into a coffee shop and had difficulty hearing in that environment, you could manipulate the hearing aid from your phone. The clever bit is you can store and geotag those settings, so the next time you went into that environment it would prompt you as to whether you ‘would you like to use these settings again’. Of course, some people just want basic hearing devices that are automatic with no controls that adjust themselves for any particular environment. We have access to all manufacturers, makes and models so there’s something for everybody.

You stock a really very wide range of hearing aid solutions. What makes you different from the competition?
We are an independent, local family-run business, so we have access to every hearing aid; every solution that’s available, so we can give true impartial ‘Sound Advice’. We can provide a solution to suit everyone’s individual lifestyle and needs. Many people don’t realise that they can potentially get better hearing aids and more choice privately than through the NHS. People often think the first port of call in respect of their hearing is their GP. That’s not always the case. Visiting a hearing centre is also an option. You don’t necessarily visit the GP first about your eyes. Furthermore, all of our hearing aid audiologists have at least 10 years’ experience, which is pretty rare these days. They are also clinical ear care practitioners, specialising in earwax removal. This is a service we have offered for a number of years. We also provide genuine free hearing aid trials, which enables someone to try one before purchasing. It’s that combination of extensive range, experience, specialist equipment, in-depth testing, dedicated time and attention to detail that’s a winner. If you spend time with someone to get their prescription and fitting correct, the quality of the final result will always be superior. Finally, we are a hearing company that is 100% dedicated and focused on hearing.

Sound Advice Hearing Centre 1 Cross Street, Peterborough PE1 1XA. 01733 343888,

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