IT IS difficult to prioritise which is our most precious sense. The loss of any can be devastating.

Hearing loss is increasing both in the UK and worldwide. Figures advise that by 2050 the number of those with problematic hearing loss will have increased from 1 in 10 to 1 in 5. It may be assumed that a degree of hearing loss is inevitable as we get older, yet the condition affects those from birth onward.

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There are many causes of hearing loss. During pregnancy, maternal infection may put the unborn child at risk. Recurrent ear infections in childhood may contribute. Parental smoking increases the chance of all childhood illnesses, including hearing conditions. Some antibiotics are known to cause hearing loss. Untreated wax is now recognised as an issue. Repeated exposure to loud noises is to be avoided. This may occur in the workplace, or recreationally, for example loud music. The WHO estimates a billion young people are at risk of permanent, avoidable hearing loss due to unsafe listening. Cotton wool buds can damage the ear.

Hearing loss, irrespective of its severity, is much more than just struggling in conversation, or having to ask others to repeat themselves.

Described as a “hidden illness”, statistics show sufferers are less likely to do well both at school and in the workplace. It is associated with greater rates of unemployment and several million lost days of work annually.

Daily Echo:

Like any disability, reduced hearing and deafness are linked with increased levels of anxiety, depression and social isolation. The more severe the hearing loss, the higher the incidence of dementia. It seems that signals from the outside world are vital in maintaining cognitive function.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 60 per cent of hearing loss, in both children and adults, is preventable.

One of the most important aspects is recognising hearing loss and acting.

Greater uptake of standard vaccines might reduce the number of babies born with hearing loss. Ear infections should not be ignored. If a child is noticed to be struggling to hear, either at school or home, a hearing test will rapidly identify any issue.

Daily Echo:

Any sudden loss of hearing in either one, or both ears, should be treated as a medical emergency.

Yet, the treatment of hearing loss is a rapidly developing field, from ever smaller hearing aids to more powerful cochlear implants.

A very exciting recent development, led by researchers at the University of Manchester, is a test which can rapidly show if a baby has the genetic susceptibility to deafness with a powerful antibiotic.

It is estimated that this could save the hearing of 180 babies in England alone, every year.

Deaf Awareness Week is this week.