Viruses and the Link to Hearing Loss

June 5, 2019

by Elizabeth Linsdell

There’s not enough awareness about viral infections and their link to long-term health issues such as hearing loss. Hearing complications can be caused by viruses such as measles, mumps and meningitis. While young children, older people, and those with illnesses are typically more susceptible to these viruses - anyone can be at risk.

Two children sitting on the floor playing board games together

Did you know that the US measles outbreak is at its highest level of cases in more than 25 years? In the last 12 months, measles cases around the globe have surged by 300% and Australia and New Zealand have not escaped the increase in this deadly disease. Severe complications can come from measles; including pneumonia, swelling of the brain and hearing loss.

Taking the right steps when you and your family are unwell is important. Measles, and other viral infections, are transmitted via airborne particles - coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person - so covering your mouth and nose when sick is the first step to minimising the spread of illness. Common symptoms of many viruses are a high fever and a runny nose. Measles is defined by a distinct red rash that starts on the face and neck.

Sound Scouts founder, Carolyn Mee has first-hand experience of the disease, with her second child contracting it before his first birthday. “My son was so sick I will never forget the fever and the challenge to get it under control. Your heart breaks for your baby as you try to comfort them. But in this instance the less they cry the more you worry.”

Fortunately, my son had no permanent issues as a result of his illness, but not all children are as lucky.

1 out of 10 children who contract measles will experience a middle ear infection. In extreme cases, measles can result in permanent hearing loss.

Hearing loss in children can affect their performance in school, including their social and emotional development, and their academic outcomes.

Adults are not immune to the impact of viral infections. Sudden hearing loss or sudden deafness can strike without warning and while there are a number of possible causes for this condition, viral infections are high on the list. Hearing loss in adults can accelerate the onset of anxiety and depression, dementia, as well as cause difficulties with balance. Hearing loss makes simple communication difficult, potentially causing social isolation.

If you’re worried about the hearing of a family member you can use Sound Scouts, an app that is currently free (in Australia), takes around 8 minutes to complete and is discretely masked as a game, making it easy and fun for children.

The test incorporates various game-like activities that test the user’s hearing. The app also tests for difficulties hearing in noise, which isn’t picked up by standard hearing checks. When a child has difficulty hearing in noise, their ability to concentrate and engage in noisy classroom environments can be significantly impacted.

Using the Sound Scouts app after you, or a family member has suffered a virus can flag any potential hearing issues. The federally-funded app is easy to use and fun. By delivering an immediate result, Sound Scouts allows you to pick up and address potential hearing issues early before they cause further problems.

As always prevention is better than cure, so where possible be sure to vaccinate to protect your family and the community from the impact of potentially deadly viruses.

Measles is most commonly contracted through contact with the infected person via coughing, sneezing, fluids or touch. If you think you or your child may have contracted measles, seek medical help. You can prevent spreading of the disease by staying home from school, childcare, work and other communal spaces until your medical practitioner advises otherwise.

If any issues are identified with an individual’s hearing Sound Scouts will recommend a re-test, followed by a prompt to visit the applicable clinician for further evaluation.

In order to achieve accurate results, Sound Scouts strongly recommends the use of good quality adult headphones or earbuds. Click here for more guidance on choosing headphones when testing.

by Elizabeth Linsdell