Alka Yagnik’s Hearing Loss Points To A Serious Problem Among Youth

Alka Yagnik's Hearing Loss Points To A Serious Problem Among Youth

Veteran playback singer Alka Yagnik recently revealed that she was suffering from a rare sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL). In an Instagram post on June 18, the singer said that she was diagnosed with the disorder after a viral attack.

Yagnik said: “To all my fans, friends, followers and well-wishers. A few weeks ago, as I walked out of a flight, I suddenly felt I was not able to hear anything. Having mustered some courage in the weeks following the episode, I want to break my silence now for all my friends and well-wishers who have been asking me why I’m missing in action. It has been diagnosed by my docs as a rare sensory neural nerve hearing loss, due to a viral attack…This sudden, major setback has caught me completely unaware. As I attempt to come to terms with it, please keep me in your prayers.”

Considered to be one of the most versatile and prominent playback singers of the 1990s, Yagnik has sung thousands of songs across various languages. She is the recipient of two National Film Awards and seven Filmfare Awards. In 2022, she was recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most-streamed artist in the world. 

What Is Sensorineural Hearing Loss?

Yagnik’s case highlights the dangers of loud music and the overuse of headphones. So, the question in everyone’s mind is, what after all is SNHL?

Hearing loss can be of two types: conductive or sensorineural. Anything related to the eardrum is conductive, while conditions related to the inner ear, the cochlea or the nerve endings and the nerve cells are of sensorinureal category. Conductive hearing loss is caused by a physical obstruction that keeps sounds from reaching the inner ear, whereas SNHL is caused by damage to the auditory nerve or the hair cells of the inner ear.

Dr (Prof) Ameet Kishore, ENT, neuro-otology & cochlear implant surgeon, (Director – Adventis ENT Clinics & Sr Consultant Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi) says, “The inner part of our ear contains tiny hair cells [nerve endings], that change sounds into electric signals. The nerves then carry these signals to the brain. SNHL is a type of hearing loss that occurs due to damage caused to the inner ear or the nerve endings in the inner ear. Sometimes, the hearing loss is caused by damage to the nerve that carries the signals to the brain.”

“Sudden sensorineural hearing loss can occur rapidly within a few minutes to three days. Almost 90% of these patients do not have an identifiable cause. It is presumed that the condition occurs probably due to a virus or decreased blood supply,” says Dr E.V. Raman, professor & senior consultant ENT surgeon, Manipal Hospital, Bengaluru.

Explaining the reasons for hearing loss, Dr Lav B. Selarka, head of department, ENT skull base and cochlear implant, Zydus Hospital, Ahmedabad, says, “Sudden hearing loss is generally because of viral infections like herpesvirus and others, use of certain medicines, or exposure to loud sound (over 80 decibels) for prolonged duration. It could also be idiopathic (unknown reason). This is called ‘adult sudden onset single-sided or bilateral SNHL’.”

Can SNHL Be Treated?

On whether the disorder can be cured with medical intervention, Dr Kishore says, “SNHL is a serious condition and should be treated as a medical emergency, with the same promptness that we treat a heart attack.”

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, the most common treatment method is giving steroid injections to reduce the swelling in the eardrum. “SNHL can be treated with steroids combined with anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and anti-platelets and also by hyperbaric oxygen therapy. In three to six months, if there is improvement, one can wait. But if there is no improvement, the patient can go for cochlear implant surgery,” says Dr Selarka.

For conditions like middle ear fluid due to air travel, a type of conductive hearing loss, doctors suggest going for an audiology exam, and, if required, undergoing a ‘myringotomy’ or fluid drainage.

Perils of loud music, earphones Being exposed to loud sounds for long periods also causes hearing loss, as it damages the auditory nerve and hair cells of the inner ear.

In her post, Yagnik warned her fans about the harmful effects of prolonged exposure to loud music. “For my fans and young colleagues, I would add a word of caution regarding exposure to very loud music and headphones. One day, I wish to share the health perils of my professional life,” she wrote.

According to National Institutes of Health (NIH) data, noise-induced hearing loss is the second most common type of SNHL after age-related reasons. A 2017 study showed that around 80% of individuals between 13 and 18 years of age used headphones for listening to music for around one to three hours a day. Another NIH study in 2021 found that approximately 1.7% of people worldwide experience noise-induced hearing loss. The study reported that individuals who use headphones in an already noisy environment are at a 4.5-fold higher risk of hearing loss.

Health experts warn that listening to headphones even at a moderate volume can damage hearing over time. And it is not just the volume that causes damage, but the length of exposure.

“Today’s digital devices offer seamless increase in volume and one does not realise that they may be exceeding the safe limit. Nowadays, working from home using earphones may make up an additional factor in noise-induced hearing loss,” adds Dr Raman.

Though SNHL is not life-threatening, people with hearing loss experience a drop in self-esteem and confidence because of their impairment in communicating with others. Hearing loss is strongly associated with depression.

A few precautionary steps can protect your ears. Reducing exposure to loud sounds, using earplugs or earmuffs to prevent occupational hearing loss among industrial workers or musicians, and avoiding ototoxic medications. 

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