Hearing loss also known as hearing impairment, is a partial or total inability to hear. A deaf person has little to no hearing. Hearing loss may occur in one or both ears. In children hearing problems can affect the ability to learn spoken language and in adults it can cause work related difficulties. In some people, particularly older people, hearing loss can result in loneliness. Hearing loss can be temporary or permanent.
Hearing loss may be caused by a number of factors, including: genetics, ageing, exposure to noise, some infections, birth complications, trauma to the ear, and certain medications or toxins. A common condition that results in hearing loss is chronic ear infections. Certain infections during pregnancy such as syphilis and rubella may also cause hearing loss. Hearing loss is diagnosed when hearing testing finds that a person is unable to hear 25 decibels in at least one ear. Testing for poor hearing is recommended for all newborns. Hearing loss can be categorised as mild, moderate, moderate-severe, severe, or profound. There are three main types of hearing loss, conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, and mixed hearing loss.
Half of hearing loss is preventable. This includes by immunization, proper care around pregnancy, avoiding loud noise, and avoiding certain medications. The World Health Organization recommends that young people limit the use of personal audio players to an hour a day in an effort to limit exposure to noise. Early identification and support are particularly important in children. For many hearing aids, sign language, cochlear implants and subtitles are useful. Lip reading is another useful skill some develop. Access to hearing aids, however, is limited in many areas of the world.
As of 2013 hearing loss affects about 1.1 billion people to some degree. It causes disability in 5% (360 to 538 million) and moderate to severe disability in 124 million people. Of those with moderate to severe disability 108 million live in low and middle income countries. Of those with hearing loss it began in 65 million during childhood. Those who use sign language and are members of Deaf culture see themselves as having a difference rather than an illness. Most members of Deaf culture oppose attempts to cure deafness and some within this community view cochlear implants with concern as they have the potential to eliminate their culture. The term hearing impairment is often viewed negatively as it emphasises what people cannot do.
Stuttering is a problem that interferes with fluent (flowing and easy) speech. A person who stutters may repeat the first part of a word (as in wa-wa-wa-water) or hold a single sound for a long time (as in caaaaaaake). Some people who stutter have trouble getting sounds out altogether. Stuttering is complex, and it can affect speech in many different ways.
Articulation disorders involve a wide range of errors people can make when talking. Substituting a "w" for an "r" ("wabbit" for "rabbit"), omitting sounds ("cool" for "school"), or adding sounds to words ("pinanio" for "piano") are examples of articulation errors. Lisping refers to specific substitution involving the letters "s" and "z." A person who lisps replaces those sounds with "th" ("simple" sounds like "thimple").
Cluttering is another problem that makes a person's speech difficult to understand. Like stuttering, cluttering affects the fluency, or flow, of a person's speech. The difference is that stuttering is a speech disorder, while cluttering is a language disorder. People who stutter have trouble getting out what they want to say; those who clutter say what they're thinking, but it becomes disorganized as they're speaking. So, someone who clutters may speak in bursts or pause in unexpected places. The rhythm of cluttered speech may sound jerky, rather than smooth, and the speaker is often unaware of the problem.
Apraxia (also known as verbal apraxia or dyspraxia) is an oral-motor speech disorder. People with this problem have difficulty moving the muscles and structures needed to form speech sounds into words.
Normal speech might seem effortless, but it's actually a complex process that needs precise timing, and nerve and muscle control.
When we speak, we must coordinate many muscles from various body parts and systems, including the larynx, which contains the vocal cords; the teeth, lips, tongue, and mouth; and the respiratory system.
The ability to understand language and produce speech is coordinated by the brain. So a person with brain damage from an accident, stroke, or birth defect may have speech and language problems.
Some people with speech problems, particularly articulation disorders, may also have hearing problems. Even mild hearing losscan affect how people reproduce the sounds they hear. Certain birth defects, such as a cleft palate, can interfere with someone's ability to produce speech. People with a cleft palate have a hole in the roof of the mouth (which affects the movement of air through the oral and nasal passages), and also might have problems with other structures needed for speech, including the lips, teeth, and jaw.
Some speech problems, like stuttering, can run in families. But in some cases, no one knows exactly what causes a person to have speech problems.
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