Q&A – World Hearing Day, About Hearing and Hearing Loss
What is World Hearing Day and why is the 2022 campaign focusing on safe listening?
Held annually on 3 March, World Hearing Day (WHD) is a global awareness campaign led by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to highlight the importance and value of hearing healthcare and the need to protect hearing throughout the course of our lives.
The 2022 World Hearing Day theme is ‘To Hear for Life, Listen with Care’. Read more about WHD and download resources here.
Audiology Australia is helping spread this message about safe listening by urging Australians to assess sound exposure by asking ‘How long? How loud? How often?
You can help us spread this message and build awareness of the value and importance of hearing health and protecting our ears by following us on social media and like, sharing and commenting on our posts. You can also use the resources on this page to create your own posts to help encourage people to take care of their hearing.
How do we hear?
Our ears work with our brain using a delicate system to transport sound waves through the outer, middle, and inner ear and process and transform sound signals into the things we hear.
Sound waves travel down our ear canal where they are vibrated through the ear drum, the sound is then conducted by the smallest bones in the body – the hammer, anvil and stirrup – into cochlea and the inner ear where tiny hairs perfectly tuned to specific frequencies transform the sound into signals that are sent to the nerve attached to our brain. Our brain then helps us process and understand these signals as the things we hear.
What happens when our hearing is damaged by exposure to sound?
When we are exposed to loud or sudden noise, particularly over a long period of time, the tiny hair cells that send sound signals to the brain are overworked. This causes these hairs to die reducing our ability to hear and process certain frequencies of noise. There is no way to repair this damage to the hair cells so hearing loss is permanent.
How Common is hearing loss in Australia?
1 in 7 Australians have hearing loss with the rate expected to double by 2060, many of those diagnosed have sound induced damage. Your likelihood of having hearing loss increases with age. Around 5% of children in Australia are affected by hearing loss with that number rising to over 74% of adults over 70. This is often due to sound exposure.
What are the impacts of hearing loss?
Undetected hearing loss can have significant impact on wellbeing and quality of life reducing employment, education and social outcomes and increasing risk of many other health problems such as cardiovascular disease and dementia. It can stop people doing things they love because they can’t easily communicate and connect to others, find it difficult to participate in noisy environments and avoid many situations out of fear and embarrassment about not being able to hear. Changes to hearing and onset of conditions such as Tinnitus (ringing and sounds in the ears) can cause significant distress leading to mental health issues.
How can I protect my hearing?
Sound is everywhere in our lives, as we connect to the people around us, enjoy things we love such as music and get the job done. While we can’t avoid sound, we do need to be careful. Once you lose your hearing you can’t get it back and while hearing aids and other devices can be useful in correcting hearing loos, they cannot replicate natural hearing.
Some easy ways to protect your hearing are:
- Use protection - If it is connected to power (e.g. a cord or battery) or you feel uncomfortable wear protection such as level 4 or above ear muffs or ear plugs
- Be aware - know how loud sound is and how long and frequently you are exposed
- Turn it down – a good rule is If you are listening to music through ear bus or headphones and other people can hear it, it’s too loud. Keep volume at a safe level
- Take a break – make sure you embrace the quiet and give your ears are break
- Be aware of changes – if you do notice ringing or sounds in your ears or changes to how you hear, get a hearing - assessment and health check to pick up changes early
When should I see an audiologist?
As well as assessing your hearing health, audiologists can provide advice on protecting your hearing and managing risks. Regular hearing health checks can help pick up changes early.
You should consider seeing an audiologist for an assessment:
- If you have ringing or sounds in your ears (Tinnitus)
- You are experiencing increasing difficulty understanding and following speech in noisy environment such as when you are out to dinner, in a café or communicating in a noisy, crowded environment
- You notice you are increasing the volume of the television, your phone or personal listening devices
- You find yourself avoiding certain situations or activities because it is difficult to hear for example making phone calls, drive through take away, going to the movies
- You can’t hear high-pitched sounds such as doorbells, alarms, bird singing
Our Find an Audiologist search tool is an easy and quick way to find an AudA accredited audiologist near you.
What does an Audiologist do?
Audiologists are highly skilled and trained hearing health professionals who provide advice, treatment, education, and interventions for people with hearing, communication, and balance problems. They can work closely with other health professions and in a wide variety of health and education settings.
Conduct diagnostic hearing and balance assessments
Develop and implement personalised rehabilitation and treatment programs, including working wholistically with a clients’ broader health team to manage hearing health needs
Provide counselling and rehabilitation for clients with Tinnitus to help them rehabituate and improve quality of life
Prescribe, fit, and program hearing aids, implants and assistive listening technology systems
Work with educators in schools and classrooms to maximise listening environments and support for children with hearing needs
Design, implement and supervise hearing health programs such as newborn screening programs
You can read more about the role of the Audiologist here.
Listen. What do you hear? A phone ringing, your favourite song, a quick goodbye, a warm ‘I love you’, a bird, the roar of an engine, the start of a storm, someone at the door? Living is a noisy business, and as they lead the way through this cacophony of our existence our ears could do with some TLC.
This World Hearing Day 2022, Audiology Australia (AudA) is urging Australians to get serious about safe listening and the need to protect their hearing now and in the future. As this year’s theme reminds us ‘to hear for life, listen with care’.
Our ears are designed to understand and process waves of sound as they curl down deep into the cochlea, where each frequency is played perfectly by an army of finely tuned hairs for the nerve connected to our brain to transform into what we hear. It is the sort of finely tuned fragile system only found in nature. One that works perfectly until it doesn’t. As Joni Mitchell sings ‘you don’t know what you’ve lost til it’s gone,’ and in the case of your ears by then it’s too late.
It's a message AudA Board President, Dr Barbra Timmer is hoping Australians will embrace this World Hearing Day.
“Once your hearing is gone, it’s gone. We can’t reverse the damage. We really want people to take their hearing health seriously and take simple steps to protect it such as being aware of how loud sound is and how long and often they are exposed and wearing protection when at increased risk of damage,” says Dr Timmer.
AudA accredited audiologist, Myriam Westcott, agrees. Rather than being fearful of sound she believes it is about empowering Australians to be aware of risk and make hearing protection part of their routine.
“We are great at remembering to ‘slip, slop, slap’ in the sun, wear a helmet when we ride a bike or a seatbelt in the car, but too often we forget about our ears. We need to make taking simple measures such as wearing ear plugs when sound is uncomfortable or ensuring we take regular breaks, part of our routines too,” she says.
Tim Rayner, also an Audiology Australia accredited audiologist, agrees. Much of his time is spent working with clients in regional and rural Victoria where risks remain high from industrial noise and a culture of gun use. He keeps it simple when talking to people about unsafe sound.
“If it is connected to power such as a battery or a cord, if other people can hear it through your ear buds or earphones, it’s damaging your hearing,” he says.
You don’t have to be in an industrial or agricultural setting to be exposed to unsafe levels of sound. Protecting is just as important when driving a ride on mover weekly in your backyard or tinkering with power tools or a day out at an air show or car racing. Rayner recommends level 4 or over earmuffs for domestic use and level 5 for industry. But warns he still encounters a lot of misconceptions about using sound protection.
“Many older guys will tell you they need to hear the machines work, but that’s a furphy. Earmuffs are easy to fit and offer great protection that doesn’t remove sound but reduces it to safe levels,” he explains.
1 in 7 Australians are currently impacted by hearing loss and rates expect to double by 2060. With unsafe sound exposure a leading cause of preventable hearing damage, AudA wants Australians to take hearing health and protection seriously at home, work and when they’re having fun.
Dr Timmer warns undiagnosed hearing loss has significant impacts on wellbeing and mental health.
“We know that people whose hearing loss remains uncorrected have poor social, education and work outcomes and increased risk for chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and dementia. But we can help and make a significant difference for people,” says Dr Timmer.
“An AudA accredited audiologist can can not only assess and treat hearing health but advise on the best options to protect your hearing into the future,” she says.
As well as using protection and being safe with sound, AudA is encouraging all Australians to prioritise a hearing check with an AudA accredited audiologist to find changes to hearing health early and minimise impacts on their health and wellbeing.
Visit the Find an Audiologist page to locate an AudA accredited audiologist near you.
You can learn more abut World Hearing Day, Hearing Health and protection your hearing at the WHO website.