Have you ever wondered how it would feel if you could hear nothing? Not the chirping birds, the whoosh of the wind as it rustles through your hair, your favourite music track or those squealing peals of laughter of your little one, as they splash around in the pool. How would your life be without these sounds? Or worse yet, not knowing what these sounds were. I shudder to imagine a life like that.
I’d like to start with two questions for all of you reading this.
- How many of you have had an eye test done?
- How many of you have ever had a hearing screening done?
Even without counting your answers, I can almost blindly (forgive the pun!) say that the number of people who’ve had eye tests far outnumber the ones who’ve had a hearing test/screening done. Have you ever thought why that is the case? I mean, after all ‘hearing’ is one of those five key senses that a human being has. So then, why is it not given the same level of importance as say, sight, smell, touch etc.?
While there is no correct answer to this, the very ugly truth is that loss of hearing or deafness is something that is very real and affects millions of people all around the world. Over 300 million of us in fact, if a WHO report is to be believed. And almost 11% - around 32 million - of them are children. A quick look at the stats will tell us that almost 1 billion young people - i.e. between the ages of 12 - 35 years- are at risk of hearing loss due to recreational exposure to loud sounds. Yes, it’ll serve all of us well to remember that the next time we play that bass-heavy song at an ear-shattering decibel on our headphones or watch a movie with the volume turned up high.
But here’s the part that is not all doom and gloom. Half of all cases of hearing loss are avoidable through prevention. In fact, about 60% of childhood hearing loss is preventable - but yet, it exists. And that’s where we need to act. Now, before we go into some detail about all this, let me tell you why I’m going on about hearing loss.
Recently - on #WorldHearingDay to be precise - I was invited along with a select few other bloggers to attend an event organised by Cochlear India, who are pioneers in the field of cochlear implants for hearing-impaired people. And surprisingly, the organisers wanted me to bring my 4-year-old son along too.
Now, I have to confess - I didn’t think it was a good idea. Mainly because little kids are as unpredictable as the famed English weather. They can be bright and cheery one moment; and dark and moody the next. And not to mention the potential ‘storm’ that they could unleash.
But do you know why I decided to take him along? No, it wasn’t because he’d get to meet the famous Aussie pacer, Brett Lee. In fact, on seeing Brett, he loudly asked - ‘Who’s that boy?’. See, that’s another reason why I didn’t want to take him - they have no filter. But more on that in another post.
The reason that I took him along directly from school was because of this little nagging feeling that I had in the back of my head. Yes, about his hearing. Now, if you’re a parent, I am certain that you’ll agree with me when I say that ‘we’ve often wondered if our kids have ears for decorative purposes’. While the smart parent in me had the inkling that he was merely pretending, the slightly overly concerned parent side of mine wondered if he had some hearing disability. So, I was keen to also get a hearing screening for him done by a professional. Plus, I also had the chance to meet Brett Lee - I mean, any cricket fan worth their salt wouldn’t give up an opportunity like that.
For those of you who’re wondering, Brett is the Cochlear’s First Global Hearing Ambassador. In fact, you can watch his message right here:
If I’m honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the hearing screening. My 4-year old is notorious for running out of the chair when his paediatrician just wants to check his chest for congestion. So yes, I was a little bit nervous. But what amazed me was not just how professional the technicians who did the test were, but also how relatively stress-free and simple the whole thing was. In fact, I think the test took less than 10 minutes and the results were promising. Well, promising in the sense that my 4yo had perfect hearing. So apparently he just had selective hearing when his parents called him for something ?
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I would be lying if I said that I didn’t breathe a sigh of relief when I saw the results. In fact, I think had it not been a public place, I may have done a little happy dance. But then I thought: shouldn’t this be done when the kids are younger, say within the first year of birth? I realised that I’ve never actually heard my son’s doctor (or any one for that matter) recommend a hearing test for newborns. It would make a world of sense to do it right at the start of their lives. And as I sat there thinking about this, the organisers brought in someone who would confirm these thoughts of mine.
The lovely girl here is Komal, who is 8 years old, is a cochlear implant recipient. Her implant is the new Kanso™ - dubbed to be the smartest, most discreet innovation in the field of cochlear implants to date.
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In fact, Kanso™ is so small and discrete that one of my fellow bloggers, Vidya Sury, who was offered the chance to try and ‘detect’ the unit, was unable to locate it without Komal pointing it out to her.
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There was something that Komal (and her mother) mentioned that really stood out for me. It was that the loss of hearing is often not just a loss of sound. It also means a reduced ability to converse and speak. That’s something that I would have never associated with hearing loss. Often after an implant, it takes a certain amount speech therapy to get the person communicating effectively. So, it makes sense to do the screening as early as possible and ascertain if there is a hearing loss.
The simple truth is that hearing loss can be caused by a number of things - genetic causes, complications at birth, infectious diseases, chronic ear infections, use of particular drugs, ageing, exposure to excessive noise and so on. Some of these may be well outside out control and sometimes there’s no way to ascertain it. But there is certainly one thing we all can do.
And that is to get ourselves (and our family, especially kids) a hearing screening done at the earliest.
Now, that’s not too much to ask for, is it?