Deafness means loss of hearing. It can affect one or both ears. Deafness may mean complete loss of hearing or only a partial loss. Most children who are born with good hearing will grow up to hear well. Years ago, many children developed deafness as a result of illnesses that led to ear infections. Nowadays, with the use of early treatment, including the antibiotic medicines, ear infections that would lead to deafness can be controlled before they damage hearing.
In the old days when your grand- I parents were young, there were many illnesses around, like measles and mumps and scarlet fever, that were sometimes followed by severe ear infections and loss of hearing. Today, thank goodness, there are vaccines to prevent measles and mumps, and antibiotics to knock out scarlet fever, so practically nobody has to fear deafness from these conditions! Unfortunately, no one has yet learned how to do away with the ordinary cold. And colds can be followed by ear infections if they are especially severe, or if they are neglected by not going to bed and taking medicines when there is a fever.
Infections of the middle ear and mastoid bones behind the ear are the commonest causes of hearing loss. Do you remember, we talked about the middle ear in the first volume of these books? The middle ear contains the eardrum and the three little bones of hearing, and the middle ear connects with the Eustachian tube which leads to the throat. Once in a while, when someone has a severe cold or sore throat or infected tonsils, the infection travels up the Eustachian tube to the middle ear. The infection sometimes travels even further and infects the mastoid bones near where the inner ear is located. Unless these middle ear and mastoid bone infections are cleared up quickly by giving large doses of antibiotic medicines, some permanent damage to hearing may result. Luckily, in most cases, hearing returns to normal after these infections clear up.
Naturally, the best way to avoid ear infections is to treat the cold or sore throat or tonsillitis before the infection has a chance to spread. And, of course, if a child gets repeated infections of the tonsils, the best thing to do is to have them removed. Another thing: children who have stuffed noses should not sniff up the mucus, as this may cause it to get into the Eustachian tubes. And besides, they should not blow their noses too hard to get rid of the mucus because this, too, may cause some of it to get into the Eustachian tubes.
The mastoid air cells can become infected by an extension of the inflammation from the middle ear. When they do, antibiotics are given to control the infection. Sometimes it requires surgery to get rid of the infection by scraping and draining the mastoid cells.
There are a few other conditions that can lead to deafness, but, fortunately, they don’t happen very often. A child can lose some hearing if he or she runs an extremely high temperature for a week or two or has an infection of the brain such as encephalitis or meningitis. Once in a while, a severe fall on the head may cause damage to the nerve of hearing, and that can cause deafness, too. And, as we have mentioned elsewhere in these books, occasionally a child is born deaf. In such cases, the deafness is usually permanent. However, some day doctors may discover a way to restore hearing to children who are born deaf.
In addition to the kinds of deafness that are permanent, there are several types that last only a short time. For example, wax can collect in the ear canals and can be so heavily packed in the canal that it interferes with hearing. Loss of hearing can also result when children put something into their ears, like a marble or a bean or a bead or a pebble. And, as we all know, we can lose hearing temporarily when we get water into our ears when swimming.
Teachers and parents sometimes complain that a child doesn’t seem to hear normally. In most instances, it is not due to real deafness. The lack of hearing in these children comes about because they don’t pay attention to what is being said to them. Actually, no one hears well unless he pays attention.
Would you like to try an experiment? If you are reading this book, you are not paying attention to all the sounds coming from outside. Put the book down, or if someone is reading to you, ask them to put down the book. Now, listen quietly to all the sounds you weren’t hearing while you were reading or being read to. The same sounds were there all the time, but you didn’t hear them because you weren’t paying attention. That’s why your mother gets so angry when she calls and calls you, and you don’t answer. In all probability, you were concentrating so much on a TV or radio program that you didn’t hear her calling.
We hear everything much better when we look at the person who is speaking to us. Without knowing it, we watch their lips move as they speak, and this helps to hear and understand what they are saying even if they are talking in a quiet whisper. In other words, our eyes help our ears to work better. If you want to prove this, have someone talk to you very softly while he covers his mouth with his hand. You may not hear what he is saying. Then, ask him to say the same thing again in the same soft tone but not while covering his mouth with his hand. See how much more clearly you hear him? He covers his mouth with his hand. You may not hear what he is saying. Then, ask him to say the same thing again in the same soft tone but not while covering his mouth with his hand. See how much more clearly you hear him?
Loss of hearing can result when a child puts something in his ear, like a bean or a pebble. Such foreign bodies can be removed from the ear with a small forceps, but this should only be done by a physician.
People with hearing loss can use their eyes to help themselves, too. They can be taught how to understand what others are saying by lip reading. There are courses given in special schools for the deaf that teach how to read lips, and it is amazing how quickly a person with hearing loss can learn it.
Actually, deaf people who read lips are hearing with their eyes! Children who have lost hearing due to an infection of the inner or middle ear can often be helped greatly by using a hearing aid. These are little gadgets that make things sound louder in much the same way as a loudspeaker in a radio or television set makes sounds louder. Hearing aids use a tiny electric battery that is no bigger than the tip of a finger. A hearing aid is fitted snugly into the ear canal and is made so cleverly that it is hardly noticeable. Of course, if a boy or girl wears long hair, it can’t be seen at all. Hearing aids can be worn all day long and will not fall out while a child is running or playing. Naturally, we take them out of our ears when we go in the water.