Sidney Chahonyo suffers partial hearing loss but that has not stopped him from going about his life.
It all began at the age of seven during a trip to Mombasa. “I got a very bad case of mumps. I was treated for malaria and my body reacted to the treatment, as I lost hearing on the left side,” he recalls, adding that things got worse when he was diagnosed with cancer of the post-nasal space at the age of 19.
By this time, he had a one-sided hearing and had been warned about losing his hearing completely because of radiotherapy and the proximity of the ear to where the cancer was.
By 2017, Chahonyo says he got a significant amount of hearing loss and at some point started feeling a strange sound of a piece of paper crumpling.
A specialist said it could have been the after-effect of radiotherapy but later, an audiologist explained he was suffering from moderate to profound hearing loss.
Richard Mwangi, a consultant audiologist, says treatment starts with screening, diagnosis and then managing hearing impairment.
“We try to diagnose the levels of the hearing impairment to gauge if it is normal or not normal, mild, moderately severe, or profound,” says Mwangi.
“Some people are born with the problem while others acquire it along the way,” he says, adding that hearing loss and impairment is not specific to people or regions.
“When you look at congenital hearing impairment you will find that during baby formation process some parts like cochlea did not develop properly,” says Mwangi. “If the mother had some disease like high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy it could be a major cause of hearing impairment. A child can also be born with normal hearing but develops jaundice, causing damage to the hearing.”
Mwangi says every child should be checked for signs of any abnormalities like congenital cataracts, hearing and vision and “this should be done several times during early development so that if found they can be corrected as early as possible but this fails to happen in our hospitals.”
Mwangi warns young people against the trend of plugging ear pods with stereo buds.
“When you hoot behind them they cannot hear, you can imagine the amount of noise inside. Besides, the small ones have no room for sound pressure to escape.”
When hearing loss is not addressed in time it has a life-changing impact. In the case of Chahonyo, his hearing loss began when he had just started a new job and had to leave.
“I then got to a job where I was fitted with a hearing aid, but it did not work as it should and that is when I sought a second opinion,” Chahonyo says.
Another audiologist at a different clinic saw an impression made of his ear, which was used to manufacture a hearing aid for him.
One part of the hearing aid goes into the ear, the other part that houses the computer programming of the device goes behind the ear. Hearing aids have batteries like other electronic devices.
“Just as public address system works, the hearing aid amplifies the sound as it has an amplifier, receiver and programming chip that determines how much power is given to a patient,” explains Mwangi.
In extreme cases, cochlea implants are used. Implants are surgically fitted devices but one has to be on hearing aids for at least three months prior.
Since Chahonyo’s left ear does not function well, he often turns to his right to hear and his children aged three and eight know when to ask whether he has the device on.
The hearing aid has its downside.
“When I am walking in downtown Nairobi I have to reduce the volume since the hearing aid amplifies all the sounds in the surroundings,” says Chahonyo.
Mwangi laments at the cost of hearing aids and implants.
“The basic hearing aid ranges from Sh40,000 upwards, while a piece of cochlea implant goes for Sh2.6 million to Sh3 million.”
Mwangi says though some international insurance firms cover hearing aids and implants, here in Kenya the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) covers a bit of it through comprehensive covers, but the cost varies with what amplifications a patient needs.
“Some have Bluetooth capability, while others even have technology that helps a child develop faster,” he says.