Cars got so close before I heard them

Priya Mistry near to traffic at the end of West Street Havant. The News reporter Priya Mistry has her hearing tested and ear impressions made at Specsavers Hearing Centre, West Street, Havant.   Picture: Allan Hutchings (121565-240)

Priya Mistry near to traffic at the end of West Street Havant. The News reporter Priya Mistry has her hearing tested and ear impressions made at Specsavers Hearing Centre, West Street, Havant. Picture: Allan Hutchings (121565-240)

Kevin Porter

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It feels bizarre when you can see traffic speeding past and you know that even the quietest of cars should be making some sort of noise – yet you can’t hear them.

As I waited to cross a busy road, I couldn’t make out the sound of oncoming vehicles until they were just a couple of feet away from me.

Meanwhile, walking down Havant’s West Street was an odd experience as I was closed off to much of the general hubbub of market day.

And stepping inside a busy coffee shop, I had to get the barista to repeat his questions to me and rely on facial expressions and hand gestures to communicate with him.

In Deaf Awareness Week, I had been made ‘deaf’ for a day to give me a much greater appreciation of what everyday life can be like if you lose your hearing.

I went to see Havant-based audiologist Clive Harrod, who carefully injected a putty used to make moulds for hearing aids into my ears and reduced my hearing by around 40 per cent.

Clive says he believes more people will need hearing aids in the future.

He explains: ‘Previous generations would lose their hearing because of work-induced noise.

‘But now health and safety regulations have improved greatly and companies are a lot more responsible.

‘The problem now is noise from leisure activities.

‘Young people are exposing themselves to more intense noise and sound by using things like iPods.’

Coldplay frontman Chris Martin recently revealed that he suffers from tinnitus – a ringing sound in the ears – after years of listening to loud music.

After doctors warned him it could end his musical career, he began wearing earplugs at concerts and when he is performing.

He also makes sure his children, Apple (7) and six-year-old Moses, are protected from loud music at all times

Chris is backing a national campaign by the charity Action on Hearing Loss, which is urging young people to look after their ears.

‘You have to try to be responsible and keep the level low,’ says Clive.

‘It’s hard for younger people to catch on to how damaging it can be as they won’t notice a difference for a while.

‘Usually what happens is over time you gradually lose your hearing and you think that level is normal.

‘It’s only when people come in for a hearing test and we show them the level they’re hearing at that they realise.

‘Either that or when they are fitted with a hearing aid they suddenly start to hear background noise and get improved clarity.’

Deaf Awareness Week is run by the UK Council on Deafness, which is a combination of deaf charities and organisations across the country.

This year the theme is Look At Me, which aims to improve people’s understanding of different types of deafness.

The campaign highlights the different methods of communication used by deaf, deafened, deafblind and hard of hearing people, such as sign language and lipreading.

So how difficult is it to be hard of hearing?

After a test to see how good my hearing was to start with, my earplugs were fitted and Clive and I headed off into Havant.

As I walked down West Street, everything was very quiet.

I could hear my own footsteps a lot louder than normal, but was still able to hold a conversation with someone stood very close to me.

What I did notice was that I couldn’t hear sounds I thought I would hear a lot sooner – other people walking towards me, cars approaching and general background noise that you take for granted.

When it came to crossing a busy road, it was a lot more difficult than normal.

It meant I was doubling the number of times I would usually look to cross to make sure there wasn’t any oncoming traffic.

Back at the Specsavers hearing centre, I had another hearing test done to see if there was a difference in frequencies.

The results showed that, with the mould in my ear, I had lost 30 to 40 decibels of sound.

Clive explains: ‘We encourage hearing tests in some shape – whether that’s seeing someone privately or being referred by your doctor through the NHS.

‘When you start to mishear things you can put it down to the telly not being as clear as it could be, or that people are mumbling.

‘That’s why we’d encourage people to get their hearing tested every two years – although this can differ depending on people’s age and history.

‘Generally it’s high frequencies that go first and that means you lose clarity.

‘It means you’re losing the sharpness of sounds and can confuse words.

‘That’s why regular testing is important.’

To find out more about Deaf Awareness Week, go to deafcouncil.org.uk

‘THEY DON’T REALISE THE DAMAGE’

Marjorie Onslow knows from personal experience how important it is to protect your ears.

The 100-year-old has been partially deaf for around 30 years and says: ‘You don’t really notice it’s going as it’s very gradual.

‘I started losing my hearing because of old age and have gone through three hearing aids.’

Marjorie, who lives in Emsworth, fears the younger generation will be forced to wear hearing aids when they’re older because of exposure to loud noise.

She says: ‘I’m concerned young people are surrounded by so much noise that they don’t realise the damage they are doing.’

Marjorie says she didn’t fully realise how much sound she was missing out on until she got her hearing aids fitted.

The great-grandmother explains: ‘I love hearing the blackbirds outside.

‘Without my hearing aid I would be missing out on that.

‘Ears are very delicate things and they need to be looked after.

‘It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to hear.’

Marjorie thinks more needs to be done to raise the awareness of deafness.

‘People make a big deal about going blind,’ she says.

‘Yes, that is bad, but so is being deaf.

‘I definitely wouldn’t recommend a deaf person living on their own.

‘They need help and support.

‘I would also suggest people get their ears tested as soon as they think they have a problem.

‘Don’t leave it and think it will get better.

‘If you need to wear a hearing aid then that’s what you’ll have to do.’

She adds: ‘There are many different styles nowadays, so you can get discreet ones if needs be.

‘I can tell you that hearing aids make a big difference to your life.’

SOUND LEVELS

Sound is measured in decibels (db). Experts warn that regular exposure to levels of 85db and above can lead to hearing damage.

60db – normal conversation

85db – heavy traffic

110db – disco, nightclub, car horn or shouting in the ear

112db – personal music player (on loud)

115-120db – chainsaw

120db – rock concert or ambulance siren

125db – car stereo

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