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Hearing: Gateway to Wellness

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On the occasion of World Hearing Day on 3rd March, let us all pledge to be more sensitive to our ears and listen to them for a change. This year’s theme of Hearing Awareness Day is focus on the rise of hearing disorders and their prevention. Let us do something to be more aware of the way we hear and taking care of our hearing along with being more sensitive to people around us suffering from hearing loss. It can be getting  timely hearing checkups and following the treatment protocols either through medication or surgery or by wearing hearing aids. Hearing is truly our getaway to good health and wellbeing. 

World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 360 million people worldwide, that is about 5% of world population has a disabling hearing loss, of which 32 million are children. Almost 60% of childhood hearing loss is due to preventable causes. WHO defines disabling hearing loss as hearing loss greater than 40 dB in the better ear for adults and more than 30 dB inchildren.  Hearing disability is the second most cause of disability. Prevalence and incidence of hearing loss is high in south east asia, including India as well. In urban India hearing loss is 9% of all disabilities and in rural it is about 10%.

Hearing impairment is not visible so is difficult to identify and treat. Deaf people, unlike blind people do not get sympathy and are often ridiculed in social settings. About 1/3 of population above 65 years have a disabling hearing loss. Also, hearing aids and other hearing accessories are not covered in health insurance policies as well, which makes it furthermore difficult for the hearing impaired population. 
Children with hearing impairment suffer the most. Government protocols for early identification and intervention are still in its infancy. Infant hearing screening programs are still not in place in many neonatal setups. Child with hearing loss cannot develop speech and language without early intervention and leads to difficulties of communicating with the hearing world. Acquired hearing impairment also results in unclear speech and other social adaptation issues. 

Noise pollution, ototoxic drugs and other chronic illnesses like diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease are other leading causes of deafness in India. Noise induced hearing losses are 100% preventable if people are aware of it and take necessary precautions.  Society in general should be educated about the ill effects of noise and take the necessary measures to reduce and prevent it. 

The good news is according to WHO, nearly 60% of the hearing impairment is due to preventable causes. Another  30% of causes, though not preventable, can be managed with assistive devices. These devices/ hearing aids can have a significant positive impact in the quality of lives of the adult hearing impaired population and can prevent further health issues like social isolation and dementia. In children, early identification and fitting of hearing aids and cochlear implants can raise their chances of mainstream education and social integration. Thus, almost 80% of hearing impairment can be effectively managed. 

                                                                                                                 - Dnyanada Potdar