People living with hearing loss have been advised not to hesitate in seeking professional help during the lockdown as delayed treatment may lead to equally serious associated issues.
Audiology clinic and wax removal firm, House of Hearing, is warning that social isolation is causing some people to miss out on vital help.
The entire hearing ecosystem, including NHS services as well as independent hearing care professionals are being hit hard by the pandemic.
But House of Hearing, with clinics across Scotland and the north of England remains open for care in line with a government exemption on audiology clinics and has assured patients that all treatments remain safely available and fully compliant with both the Governments guidelines and those of its relevant professional bodies.
The company said those with hearing or wax issues can continue to receive all aspects of care including audiology and hearing aid services, and in Edinburgh it offers the only private ENT nurse-led wax removal service in Scotland.
It is also providing advice and help over the telephone where possible and if appropriate, audiology appointments are being carried out whilst keeping both patient and clinician safe.
Melanie Jackson, clinical lead and ENT nurse practitioner at House of Hearing since 2012, said: “The most satisfying part of remaining open for care is knowing that we offer a valuable and much needed service to people who had nowhere else to turn.
“The relief of patients after receiving our help and treatment, especially those presenting with acute pain from impacted wax, which has led to cases of vertigo, insomnia, headaches and neck/jaw pain, has been overwhelming and really emotional.
“Since the current restrictions were imposed, we have seen an increase in the number of patients with severe ear conditions such as outer, middle and inner ear infections, which can be notoriously painful. Being able to offer advice and treatment in this situation is really important when there are few alternatives available.”
Phillip Page, a senior audiologist at House of Hearing adds that delaying necessary treatment may lead to a number of other health risks.
Recent studies have linked untreated hearing loss in middle age with an increased risk of cognitive decline and early onset dementia, with one claiming a new diagnosis in people aged 45 to 65 more than doubled their chances of developing the condition.
This rises to three times if the hearing loss is considered to be ‘moderate’, and five times as great if it is severe.
Mr Page has warned that hearing loss is not just an issue for older people. He is seeing a rise in the number of younger patients attending his Edinburgh clinic suffering hearing loss which may be connected with the explosion in the use of smartphones, game consoles, home entertainment systems and louder venues such as clubs and cinemas.
He said: “I have been working in audiology for two years and when I began it was mainly people in their 80s and 90s that we were treating.
“Now I routinely see people in their 50s and 60s with age-related hearing loss. It’s a reflection of how people are spending their leisure time, and a lack of hearing protection measures being taken.”
Mr Page said that while there is not yet clear research linking the use of high volume headphones and the rising number of younger people requiring hearing support, there is mounting concerns amongst health professionals.
He added: “The World Health Organisation states that by 2030, untreated hearing loss will be among the top 10 diseases burdens in the UK.
It estimates that 466m people around the world are currently affected by severe hearing loss with an annual cost in health care and lost productivity of an estimated $750 billion.
It’s a massive issue.
“Hearing loss has always been a public health issue. Isolation brought on by the country lockdown has highlighted the importance of good hearing. A more concentrated situation, in which, even having a mild hearing loss, the feelings of isolation and being cut off from loved ones is even more pronounced, potentially impacting on mental health.
“In many cases, especially among the elderly, communication and connecting with loved ones or friends is currently happening over the phone, via video calls, taking place at a distance of two metres or more or behind a face mask. None of these elements are conducive to easy communication, especially to someone with a hearing loss.
“The link between not treating hearing loss and early onset dementia is there, and wearing hearing aids could help with slowing dementia rates.“
“Even without lockdown, often people will have a hearing loss but do nothing about it, believing it to be something that has to be lived with or an inevitable burden of ageing.
“However, the link between not treating hearing loss and early onset dementia is there, and wearing hearing aids could help with slowing dementia rates.”
Action on Hearing Loss estimates that there are more than 10 million – around one in six – people in the UK with some degree of hearing impairment or deafness.
Age-related hearing loss occurs when the hair like cells in the inner ear gradually deteriorate over time.
It’s not clear why untreated diminished hearing has such a strong link to dementia, however experts suggest it could be connected to communication, cognitive ability and isolation.
Mr Page said early diagnosis of reduced hearing, preventative action such as wearing ear protection in noisy settings and making use of digital, discreet but effective hearing aids could help.
He added: “The NHS includes hearing loss among the risk factors for dementia. Keeping all cognitive function as sharp as you can for as long as you can is important, because if you’re not hearing well, then basic communication is affected. That brings its own knock-on effects in terms of one’s ability to function.
“We are currently experiencing the perfect storm of an ageing population who quite rightly wish to maintain their lifestyles and in turn maintain their communication skills, at the highest level whilst living in an increasing noisy world – this storm cannot be ignored but can be weathered by seeking the right help as early as possible.”
House of Hearing has clinics in Edinburgh, St Andrews, Morpeth, Perth and Galashiels. All of its audiologists are members of the British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists (BSHAA) and each are also registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).
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