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By Shabana Shaw

BLINDNESS, they say, cuts us off from things; but
deafness, from people. Twenty years ago, the Audiology
Department of the Georgetown Public Hospital
Corporation (GPHC) embarked on a campaign to save the
nation from deafness and internal social isolation.
Today, the move is bearing fruit.
For many people, deafness across the country begins, sadly,
not through injuries, repeated exposure to loud decibels of
sounds from the ubiquitous ‘boom boom’ boxes or industrial
noises, but from the womb. This is according to Dr. Ruth
Quaicoe, an Audiology Physician at the Georgetown Public
Hospital Corporation (GPHC).
“If you are born with a hearing impairment, it’s likely you are
not going to be able to develop speech if you’re not identified
in time,” Dr. Quaicoe explained.
“Hearing impairment is very serious; it depends on what time
it is acquired, the person’s lifestyle and if the rehabilitation
service is available,” the Audiologist said.
Fortunately, in Guyana, rehabilitation services are available
from birth to help arrest this problem or reverse congenital
hearing loss. According to Dr. Quaicoe, studies have proven
that if a child with hearing impairment does not receive a
hearing aid by the age of 5, they will not develop speech for
the rest of their life.
“It has to do with the brain and sounds going in to develop
speech and language. So we try to fit everybody before the
age of 5.”
Each child born at the GPHC, the country’s premier referral
hospital, is subjected to undergo an automated optoacoustic
emission (AOE) screening within the first 24 hours of birth.
This test is again repeated within the first three months to
ascertain the final diagnosis.
Caring our hearing is a lifelong mission, Dr. Quaicoe
counselled, warning workers who must earn their living in a
thundering industrial sector:
“If you work at an environment where there is loud music or
where machines are loud, after the first few days, your ear will
try to repair itself. So the hearing comes back and we have
a temporary threshold shift whereby you lose your hearing
and then it comes back. But after about 10 years, the hearing
doesn’t come back. The threshold will be lost and all you can
rely on is your residual hearing,” the doctor said.
For adults, hearing loss can also be attributed to their chosen
lifestyle, which includes non-communicable disease (NCDs),
smoking and listening to loud music repeatedly, working in
noisy industrial settings and, of course, old-age.
Losing one’s ability to hear does have devastating consequences

  • physically and socially – especially on the latter, where one
    will be exposed to the disgrace and infamy of stigma.
    “Hearing loss can be insidious and has been linked to social
    and health consequences. This has further triggered disturbing
    repercussions, such as social isolation and the inability to
    work and travel,” Dr. Quaicoe stated.
    She said that while hearing aids have helped to restore hearing
    for the older persons, the department makes it a priory to
    ensure that each patient receives counselling to help them to
    deal with the stain of living with a hearing ailment.
    The US-based firm, Starkey Hearing Foundation, has plugged
    millions of dollars into the audiological sector to help restore
    hearing among Guyanese. In the past two years, Starkey has
    given out some 700 hearing aids to Guyanese.
    The free gift of hearing devices comes with lifetime warranty
    and free batteries for each recipient.
    DOs and DON’Ts
    Dr. Quaicoe reiterated that while early screening is best
    practise in preventing hearing loss, there are simple dos and
    don’ts to follow for maximum care of the human ear.
    “Don’t clean your ears with cotton swabs; avoid listening to
    loud music; and when necessary, wear ear protection while
    working at industrial plants.
    “DO NOT CONSUME ALCOHOL,” Dr. Quaicoe warned
    pregnant women.
    No one wants to be cut off from things or people, especially
    the latter. Guyanese must pay heed to Dr. Mark Ross’
    statement that “when someone in the family has a hearing
    loss, the entire family has a hearing problem.
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