Beware the effects of earphones and loud 'doof-doof' music," warns KZN Health audiology expert, as more young people present with severe hearing problems

  • Most hearing problems preventable or treatable
  • Africa at risk of severe hearing problem by 2050
  • MEC Simelane announces that more rural communities will benefit from hearing health and ear care community outreach programme

05 March 2023

Audiologists and other health experts from KwaZulu-Natal are seeing an increasing number of young people with hearing problems, due to excessive usage of devices such as earphones and headphones, as well as exposure to "doof-doof: music from nightclubs and cars.

This emerged during a discussion hosted by KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane in Durban on Friday (03 March 2023), to commemorate World Hearing Day, under the theme "Accessibility of hearing care for all."

Hearing loss is said to be the second most common sensory impairment world-wide, and affects more than 12 million South Africans. But it is often entirely preventable, with the World Health Organization estimating that over 75% of childhood hearing loss in South Africa is completely preventable or treatable.

With 1 in 5 children in South Africa having disabling hearing loss, awareness on prevention, screening and care is paramount.

Speaking during the discussion, held on the Department’s weekly KZN Health Chat multimedia programme, Dr Sibiya, renowned surgeon and head of Otorhinolaryngology (the study of diseases of the ear, nose, and throat) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, revealed shocking statistics about hearing health and ear care, including that:

  • More than 80% of hearing loss is preventable or treatable;
  • But the rate of people with hearing loss is rapidly increasing in Africa; and that,
  • If nothing changes, the continent will carry the world’s highest burden of hearing loss by 2050.

Dr Sibiya, who was part of a team that performed KwaZulu-Natal's first cochlear implants in the public health sector in 2022, said: "Most of the causes of hearing loss are preventable or treatable. For instance, some of the causes of hearing loss are diseases that can be vaccinated against, or those that are linked with proper sanitation… Other causes, such as HIV and TB, are diseases that can be managed through prevention or by taking medication correctly."

"The other big thing… is a growing trend of hearing loss that is becoming more prevalent, especially within the 18 – 35 age group, that is linked to listening devices… that is linked to excessive noise from cars... noise from earphones, and noise from parties. We’ve started seeing younger people present with severe hearing loss from the ages of 35 and 40... which is something that we’ve normally seen among elderly people. It's a problem because these are young people who still need to work, travel the world, and see things, yet they have hearing loss that is quite significant.

"So, we are urging people to think about their own future. They need to remember that the effects of excessive exposure to loud noise won't be seen today, but definitely a few years from now. We need to get used to listening to music for our own selves, not the other person."

Dr Sibiya also cautioned against the use of cotton wool, sticks and other objects to remove ear wax, saying that only medicinal glycerin is safe for such purposes.

"What we don't realise when using cotton wool is that we're actually stuffing the wax further into the ear. The way the ear is designed, is that it's not a straight tube. Its canal actually decreases in size the deeper you go into it. So, by using cotton wool, you’re causing damage, and then problems arise. We're seeing a number of people with problems that are caused by things like cotton wool.

"So, we always say there are a number of safe ways to clean the ear. You can put in drops of baby oil or medicinal glycerin, just one or two drops, if you feel like there's something solid inside the ear. It will then soften and come out on its own. But you don't need to keep on poking the ear.

"If you think you have a problem, it's best to visit your local clinic, where you'll get assessed and then referred accordingly."

Meanwhile, more good news for the people of this Province is that that the recently-launched KwaZulu-Natal Auditory Implant Programme (KZN-AIP)- a collaboration of the Department of Otorhinolaryngology the Discipline of Audiology, which is spearheading the cochlear implant programme - has received the thumbs-up from MEC Simelane.

Cochlear Implants are life-changing devices that can offer some deaf patients the chance to hear. The device is surgically implanted and converts acoustic energy into electrical energy for the stimulation of auditory nerve fibres. The cochlear implant functions by bypassing the damaged hair cells in the organ of hearing – the cochlear, and directly stimulates neurons in the functional auditory nerve, in this way providing the brain with access to sound.

In August 2022, chief surgeon Dr Sibiya and her team performed the first cochlear implant for a child in a public sector hospital in KZN. On 12 October, the implant was "switched-on", and there wasn't a single dry eye among those who witnessed a two year-old child hearing his mother and father's voices for the very first time.

Since then, a total of eight patients have now had cochlear implants, including two children.

Responding to Dr Sibiya's sentiments and her team's achievements thus far, MEC Simelane made a vow that the Department would be widening its net to provide assistance to more people with hearing problems, especially those in rural areas.

"We take our hats off to Dr Sibiya and her team, because they've asked the Government that they work for, for the establishment of this programme, which is a first of its kind in the Province.

"They now have a long list of people that they need to help. We've had a discussion, and agreed that we'll go to rural areas and conduct assessments, to gauge the level of need for this kind of service. If there are those who require only audiologists, we will assist them. But if there are those who require cochlear implants, we will have to fetch them from their homes and send them to where they will receive help, be it at Ngwelezane Hospital or Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital, but they will receive help. It is only the Government of the African National Congress that can do that."

Issued by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health

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This page last edited on 11 July, 2023

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