Saturday, February 11, 2012

Now hear this--it's Deafness Awareness Week

BY Ana Valenzuela Published November 8, 2011

MANILA, Philippines - By age one, six out of ten infants would have had more than one episode of an ear infection. By age three, 4 out of 5 children would have experienced at least one ear infection. By age seven, at least one of three children would have had at least six ear defects.

These children would add to the number of people suffering from hearing disabilities. Twenty-eight percent of the Philippine population is suffering from hearing impairment. This chunk of our population is just part of the 287 million individuals, reported by the World Health Organization, who have hearing problems.

"We want to pick up hearing loss at an early stage so that we can rehabilitate as early as possible," stresses Dr. Gretchen Navarro Locsin, a pediatric Ear, Nose and Throat specialist at St. Luke's Medical Center, as she spoke at the launch of Deaf Awareness Week, which is sponsored by the Metro Manila Federation of Agencies for the Deaf in cooperation with Glaxo Smith Kline and other institutions.

Hearing loss can occur as early as infancy, so the Metro Manila Federation of Agencies for the Deaf is pushing to educate the public early on. The federation also aims to encourage Filipinos to utilize the hearing screen that is packaged in newborn screenings in hospitals.

"In 2009, it already became a law, that newborn screening would also include hearing screen. In fact, newborn screening now is packaged by Philhealth. It would be significantly helpful to children who have the potential to have hearing loss," said Locsin during the kick-off of Deaf Awareness Week on November 6 at the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center in Quezon City. Hearing screen would assist in learning if the baby has congenital hearing loss that may be caused by maternal diseases or genetics.
There are signs if your child might be experiencing hearing loss.

Locsin says parents should pick up certain indications such as the child's performance in school and socialization skills.

"The mom or the caregiver should see the cues," says Locsin. "Why is the baby not yet speaking? For example, if your child is two years old, that is already delayed. The child should have been talking at a much earlier stage. He should have been babbling by the age of eight months. Even more so, if the child is not startled or surprised, or if your child's head is not turning. Head control develops by the age of four months. So, parents should take notice of that."

"There are [types of] hearing loss that are associated with genetic abnormalities, but there are also cases that up to now, we still do not know what is the cause," says Locsin.

"About half of the known causes of hearing loss are actually preventable. If we look at the data, a lot of the cause is wax, but a significant number of hearing loss is caused by an ear infection which is known as Otitis Media. Acute Otitis Media (AOM) is acquired when you have infection and inflammation of the middle ear," shares Locsin. "AOM is one of the leading ailments among Filipino children. In fact, it occurs in three out of four kids aged three and below.

"The problem is that if your acute ear infection is not treated properly or does not go away spontaneously, then it goes on to develop into a more chronic severe form of disease," says Locsin. "You go on to have luga (AOM), which could go on to hearing loss, and lead to other diseases that are greater than hearing loss." The WHO reports that in a year about P5.7 billion is spent for the care of children who are suffering from AOM.

Apart from those mentioned, the other causes of hearing loss are Otitis Externa, infectious conditions, non-infectious conditions, intake of certain medicines and old age. There are ways to prevent acquired hearing loss---immunization for mothers and children, immediate and appropriate management of ear disease, and avoidance of exposure to loud noise.

Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK), one of the supporters of Deaf Awareness Week, offers vaccines to help prevent hearing loss.

"Among those vaccines offered by GSK is the pneumococcal vaccine (for pneumonia) which can help prevent infections that could lead to hearing loss. We also have the Rubella vaccine (German Measles). Rubella can cause deafness in the unborn babies if pregnant women are sick with it. We also manufacture flu vaccines. Influenza, unknown to some, could also cause ear infections," shares Derrick Sim, vice president of Glaxo Smith Kline for Commercial Vaccines.

"Some vaccines only require one shot, while others require two or three shots. The vaccines stimulate the body to produce antibodies to fight the infection so that the body can protect itself."

Immediate and appropriate management of ear problems or diseases is also important to prevent hearing loss.

"The mother would tell us there is no problem, but that does not mean the patient is alright, that just means that maybe the mom does not see anything. That does not mean that the wound would heal itself. The child or the adult would still go into complication," says Locsin.

What she advises is to have a check-up.

Another way to prevent hearing loss is by avoiding loud noises.

"How would you know if the volume on your MP3 or IPod is too loud?" asked Locsin.

"If the person beside you could already hear it, that is too loud," she says. "You are the only one who is supposed to hear the music especially if you are using insert earphones. If you are exposed to long and abnormally loud sounds, in a long period of time, it causes hearing loss."

For some, silence might be golden, but for others it is a burden as they live in a world without sound.

"A large number of deafness is preventable. Glaxo Smith Kline is interested in educating people to avail vaccinations. Vaccination is a good way to prevent the disease, including those diseases which can cause deafness," says Sim.

As part of GSK's advocacy on deafness, GSK gave out 300 pneumococcal vaccines to Better Hearing Philippines to help in its commitment to protect Filipino children and prevent potential hearing loss.

During Deaf Awareness Week, activities such as seminars, dance competitions and ear check-up are offered at the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center and the University of Santo Tomas.

For more information on Deaf Awareness Week, please contact Better Hearing Philippines at (02) 406-1611.

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