A hearing impairment means that the person is unable to hear what he or she normally should hear. This can range from having difficulty hearing certain sounds to complete deafness.
How does hearing impairment happen?
Hearing impairment can be congenital, meaning the person is born with the impairment. It can also be acquired later in life. Damage to the hearing nerves or exposure to loud sounds can cause a hearing loss. Infections or exposure to toxic substances can impair hearing. Sometimes, a simple buildup of normal earwax can impair hearing. As people get older, it becomes harder to hear certain frequencies, such as high-pitched sounds. Ringing in the ears, or tinnitus, may make it difficult to hear sounds. People with head injuries may become very sensitive to sounds and find that noise is painful to the ears.
Who might get this impairment?
Hearing impairment can occur at any age, even before birth. Anyone can develop a hearing impairment during his or her lifetime.
Are there ways to reduce the impairment?
It is possible to reduce the risk of acquiring a hearing impairment. Avoiding prolonged and repeated loud sounds is important. Keeping music volume down in the car and at home will also help reduce hearing impairment. People who must be in noisy places, such as those who work near jackhammers or airplanes, or at a shooting range, should wear ear protection to protect against occupational hearing loss. Simple earplugs and specially designed ear protectors are effective.
After a hearing impairment has occurred, there may be ways to improve the hearing. Hearing aids help certain types of hearing loss. Surgery may repair damaged ear structures and nerves. People can learn lip reading, which helps them to understand words they cannot hear clearly. Specially trained dogs can alert the person to sounds or activity.
How do people with this impairment function?
It is possible to live a nearly normal lifestyle with a hearing impairment. Many people have ways to compensate and participate in activities. It is even possible to drive a vehicle. People with hearing impairments may need other signals to replace sounds they cannot hear. For example, a telephone can be hooked up to a light that flashes when it rings. Extra care must be taken wherever sounds are used as safety warnings.
It is important to treat a person with a hearing impairment normally. One should look at the person when speaking and be sure to speak clearly. Hands and long hair should be kept away from the face because they block the person's view for lip reading. Faces should be well lighted and not in shadow. People should avoid eating or chewing gum while talking.
The person may ask others to spell or write words. Gestures often help clarify the message. The person with a hearing impairment can tell others the best way to make it easier to communicate. Hearing impairment does not, of course, affect intelligence. The person is still able to think and make decisions. Most people with hearing impairment can speak understandably.