Universal newborn hearing screening (UNHS) is very successful in detecting sensory neural hearing loss at birth. However, some hearing losses can develop in the first few months or years of life. The success of 'pass' screening at birth can lead to a false sense of security with parents and professionals alike – it is important for parents to be vigilant and if they suspect their infant has developed hearing loss they should investigate with a professional. 

Otosclerosis is one of the most common causes of acquired hearing loss. The incidence of otosclerosis of 2.5% seems to be the same for most populations and with no difference between the sexes. However, the incidence of clinical otosclerosis (causing hearing impairment that requires stapedectomy surgery, a hearing aid or in very extreme cases, a cochlear implant) is much lower and differs between different ethnic groups, races and the genders. It is rare in Africans, Orientals and South Americans, and more frequent in populations of European origin where the prevalence is about 0.4%. It is more frequent in women with a female to male ratio of 2:1. In about 85% of people with clinical otosclerosis the hearing loss is bilateral with the remainder having hearing loss in only one ear. The familial nature of clinical otosclerosis was first reported in 1861. A twin study reported in 1966 found the presence of clinical otosclerosis in nearly all 40 pairs of identical twins, supporting the early hypotheses that otosclerosis had a genetic basis. Numerous studies on families with otosclerosis suggested that the pattern of inherence was autosomal dominant (meaning you only need to get the abnormal gene from one parent in order for you to inherit the condition). But with the proportion of individuals carrying the abnormal gene ranging from 25-40% the impression was given that hearing loss in otosclerotic families might skip a generation. Although a strong family history exists in many patients with otosclerotic hearing loss, about 40-50% of cases are sporadic with no family history. When all past and new data concerning the occurrence of clinical otosclerosis is examined, it seems like the genetic basis of the disease is complex and the expression of the associated hearing loss is dependent on multiple factors including those in the environment (oestrogens, fluoride, viral infections). Studies are underway to shed light on the genetic base diseases that are associated with hearing loss and the various forms of inheritance that lead to both histological and clinical otosclerosis. Hopefully this will allow individuals, families and their treating doctors to further understand the risk to both this generation and their children of developing otosclerotic hearing loss in one or both of their ears. 

Our rapidly changing digital world poses challenges if you have trouble hearing. Until recently, iPods, computers, cell phones and other wireless technology were incompatible with hearing aids, often causing secondary feedback such as whistling and screeching sounds. But now new hearing aid technology is transforming the way you can experience the world around you if you have a hearing loss. Hearing aids with wireless Bluetooth technology allow sound to be received from electronic equipment directly to the ear. This hearing aid technology has the ability to search for signals from a cell phone or other electronic equipment. If you use a hearing aid with Bluetooth, you no longer need to worry about putt ing something on top of the hearing aid, next to it, or having to take the hearing aid out to answer your cell phone, enjoy music from your iPod, or watch the TV without turning the volume up. You do need an interface to communicate between the hearing devices and the blue-tooth enabled devices. Also, there are people who haven’t been able to hear well on their older mobile phones but when they’ve upgraded to newer phones (in particular the iphone) they’ve noticed a significant increase in the sound quality and have had success with using the phone normally. If privacy isn’t an issue and a person has some form of hearing in both ears, many people find the speaker setting on their phones very useful as they are hearing “in stereo.”

As a start, if your phone has a speakerphone option try using that instead of holding the phone close to your ear – many people find they hear the caller better that way. Also talk to your audiologist about options that could work with your current hearing aid or implant system. Many modern hearing aids are Bluetoothcompatible and can be configured to communicate directly with your landline phone and mobile phone so that the voice of the person you are speaking with can be transmitted directly to your hearing device/s.If you are a Telstra customer, you may be eligible for a free volume control phone through their Disability Equipment Service. They offer a variety of equipment for the hearing impaired including phones; teletypewriters (TTYs) for text-to-text conversation with other TTY users or text-to-voice calls using the National Relay Service (NRS); a visual ringer alert; and, a cochlear implant adaptor. Have a talk to your audiologist about the brilliant free National Relay Service that is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via internet or TTY. An NRS officer will even visit you at home or work to train you. A volume control phone can also be purchased through Australian company Oricom. Their phone includes an inbuilt telecoil that can assist hearing aid and cochlear implant wearers to attain a clearer signal on the telephone. As far as I know, they also have the one and only mobile phone with an inbuilt telecoil system.

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