Health conditions

Deafness

How is deafness defined?

Deafness is defined as partial or complete hearing loss. Deaf and hard of hearing people can experience anything from a very mild to a total loss of hearing.

Elderly adults who frequently experience a loss of hearing, and as a result can potentially experience social isolation, relationship breakdowns and an increase in mental health related issues.

What are the causes of deafness?

The most common cause of deafness in children is an ear infection called otitis media.

Environmental factors (such as noise, drugs, and toxins) and inherited disorders can lead to deafness.

How common is deafness?

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 1993 there were 93,600 people in WA with some form of hearing loss and 1,200 of those people use Auslan (Australian sign language) as their main mode of communication.

95 per cent of deaf babies are born to non-deaf families.

Projections for 2050 indicate that one in every four Australians will have some form of hearing loss.

How is childhood deafness diagnosed?

A child with otitis media can often experience fever, ear pain, irritability (in pre-verbal children), vomiting and lethargy.

Symptoms that will be picked up by a medical specialist can include:

  • The usual middle ear landmarks (handle of malleus, incus, light reflex) are not well seen.
  • The tympanic membrane (TM) is dull and opaque, and may be bulging. The TM colour varies but is characteristically yellow-grey.
  • On pneumatic otoscopy TM mobility is reduced.

Living with deafness

Deaf and hard of hearing people still enjoy a full and fulfilling life.

Communicating with the hearing world is usually the main problem encountered by people who are hard of hearing. Many deaf people, whether they are born deaf or become deaf, will learn sign language as a means to communicate.

Auslan (Australian Sign Language) was officially recognised as a language by the Australian Federal Government in 1987.

Auslan is based on two-handed signs and incorporates two-handed alphabet (fingerspelling).

Auslan is a visual language using signs to create meaning via the hands, orientation, location, movement and expression (HOLME). Signs are related to concepts not words.

There are registered Auslan Interpreters with the National Accreditation Authority of Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) (external site) which is the regulatory body for interpreting and translating. This was first incorporated in 1982 by NAATI and this gave a legitimate meaning to Auslan as a language.

The first Auslan dictionary was published in 1989 and now there are various resources to choose from, ranging from dictionaries, websites, interactive CD's and video/DVD programs.

Deaf people can learn to drive, can receive government assistance for hearing aids to make life easier and can even have a hearing dog (much like a guide dog but specially trained to assist deaf people).

Where to get help

  • See your doctor
  • Visit a GP after hours
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222

Remember

  • Deaf people can lead a full and fulfilling life, albeit perhaps with differing methods of communication and with the assistance of various aids.

Acknowledgements
WA Deaf society logo

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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