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Hearing loss can hit at any age


Hearing loss can strike people of any age. In fact, research shows that eight out of every 100 people with hearing loss are under the age of 18.

Forty-six-year-old Guy McIlroy, from Johannesburg, was born with almost no hearing at all. But that has not stopped him from living his dreams. Today, he is a lecturer at Wits University and is a married father of seven-year-old twin girls.

With the help of modern technology, hearing aids and speech therapy, Guy has overcome his birth defect.

“My hearing loss is severe in the one ear and it’s profound on the other. If I switch my hearing aid off I cannot hear what a person is saying. If someone screams at me, I can hear that they are shouting, but there is still no way that I understand what the words are. So, it does not matter how loud you shout, there is no clarity to it,” says Guy.

He says growing up with a hearing problem was very difficult.

“The most frustrating part is being in a family where you can’t communicate with your parents, or in school where you can’t communicate with teachers,” he says.

Guy went to a mainstream school. He says even though the teachers were helpful, he still faced many challenges.

“At school everyone would be laughing about a joke that the teacher said and I would miss it. And it made me feel very alone and frustrated. I didn’t get it. When I was given an instruction, I would not understand what to do because it was not clear to me,” says Guy.

At the moment, he uses two digital hearing aids and combines them with speech therapy to help him amplify his communication.

“Lip-reading only helps about 40%. Hearing aids help the other part to try to understand as much as possible. It’s important to have as much amplification as possible, speech skills, lip-reading skills and sign language – whatever you need, rather than relying on one,” says Guy.

He added that strong family support was crucial for people with hearing loss.

“The real issue is people can’t see that a person is deaf. It’s an invisible disability. It comes down to the support you have in a family and the teachers. I have hearing loss, that’s who I am and I’m fine with that.

“The problem is hearing people are not fine with that. They tend to think you’re dumb! Deaf people are clever. The problem is how to explain things,” says Guy.

Kelly Nathan, an audiologist at Greenside Clinic in Johannesburg, says loss of hearing comes in various degrees.

“It’s when a person does not hear exactly as they should be hearing. So, you start off with a mild hearing loss going off to severe, to profound. The various degrees of hearing loss impact on a person’s life in different ways.”

She says early signs of hearing loss are easily identifiable.

“If you find yourself having to ask for repetition, if you don’t hear what people have said to you and you find people mumble, like people talk too softly, if you don’t hear your phone ringing, if you are watching TV and you don’t understand what is being said – those are early indications,” says Nathan.

Tracy-Ann Morris, an audiologist at Oticon, a leading hearing aid manufacturer, says young people are also vulnerable to loss of hearing.

“The perception is that hearing loss is something that only affects older people, and it labels people as becoming old. But times are changing. Youngsters who listen to MP3 players at excessively loud levels are losing their hearing. So, it’s not just something that affects the elderly,” she says.

Morris also said hearing loss was very common in children from birth. In South Africa, 17 infants are born deaf daily.

“In newborns, it’s very important to try to assess their hearing ability early on, as this could really inhibit their communication abilities. So, we need to get it identified and managed as soon as possible.

“For toddlers and babies it is a high risk factor. If they are not born with the hearing loss, they can develop it later in life. This could be due to ear infection, medication if it’s poisonous to the ear system, for example anti-retroviral and malaria medication. And if they’ve had infections like chickenpox, it’s very important to visit an audiologist to establish whether or not there is hearing loss,” says Morris.

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