Nearly 32 million affected by hearing loss are children under 15: WHO

More than 360 million people in the world have disabling hearing loss, and ear infections are found to be the leading cause, according to the new global estimates on prevalence released by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The WHO estimates, released for International Ear Care Day observed on March 3, say nearly 32 million affected by hearing loss are children under 15, especially in low and middle-income countries.

Ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists in Bangalore, who stress on screening newborns, say infectious diseases such as rubella, meningitis, measles and mumps, most of which can be prevented through vaccination, can also lead to hearing loss.

The other common causes that can damage hearing include exposure to excessive noise, injuries to the ear or head, ageing, genetic causes, problems during pregnancy and childbirth and certain medications, the doctors say.

Early detection vital

Shankar B. Medikeri, ENT specialist, said early detection can prevent half the hearing loss cases. Many can be treated through early diagnosis as well as suitable interventions such as surgically implanted hearing devices. “It is important for ear screening of newborns so that problems, if any, can be detected even within four-five days.”

Advising parents not to bottle feed babies in a supine position, he said: “The baby should be held upright in the arms. Otherwise, there are chances of the milk collecting in the back of the nose leading to the baby catching a cold.”

Better safe than sorry

ENT specialist Ravi Kaushik recommends annual ear check-up. Advising people not to use ear buds, pins or any other invasive objects to clean ears, he said ear buds can push wax towards the eardrum, cause skin infections within the ear and also rupture the eardrum.

Never neglect any feeling of hearing loss. Dr. Kaushik advises people to seek immediate medical advice if they feel any sensation of a blocked ear, ear heaviness or abnormal noises in the ear. “People usually rush to doctors only when they get pain in the ear. In fact, painless ear problems are more serious and harmful as they involve the inner ear.”

Dr. Medikeri said exposure to a cold blast of air into the ear (it can happen when a person is travelling in cold weather and the window of the vehicle is open) or suffer a viral infection can develop sudden hearing loss. Advising people to protect their ears, especially while travelling, he said such sudden hearing loss can be reversed if diagnosed within 48 hours.

Too far gone

Those whose hearing is damaged as an aftermath of measles, mumps and meningitis and hearing loss caused due to degeneration of nerves in the elderly cannot be reversed. These can, however, be managed by implants and hearing devices, he adds.