Breaking the sound barrier

Gillian Kavanagh tells how she coped when frustrating hearing loss struck in her 20s

Fiona Dillon

Beauty therapist Gillian Kavanagh has recently taken up piano lessons for the first time -- after successfully tackling her hearing loss problem. Gillian, who is from Dublin but now lives in Trim, began to be affected by her hearing-loss in her 20s.

And she certainly is not alone. The launch of Hearing Awareness Week today has highlighted new research which shows that the first signs of hearing loss for many is asking people to repeat themselves or turning up the television and radio volume.

"We never really found out what happened," says Gillian (41). "The doctors reckon that I must have fallen and hit my head when I was young and damaged my hearing. I used to play basketball a lot and the only incident I can remember is having a really nasty knock on the head in practice. I was dazed for a while. I guess I was only around eight, though. That is the only incident that really stands out."

Gillian says that when she did temporary work at the age of 18, she noticed that she couldn't hear properly in her right ear when she lifted the internal phone.

"I noticed it, but it wasn't a problem because my left ear was fine, and I could hear perfectly out of it," she says.


However, when she was in her 20s she worked for a large computer company as a project manager and had to attend a lot of meetings as part of her work.

Gillian says that one-on-one she was fine, but if it was a large room full of people, she just couldn't hear the projection of people's voices. "I used to have to work twice, even three times as hard as anyone to get up to speed as to what was happening," she says. As a project manager, she had to be 100pc on top of things.

"I was working in a high-end industry and it's very competitive, and you have to have your opinion heard in the boardroom. I was beginning to get frustrated because I knew I wanted to have my input, but I was afraid in case I missed something, or maybe somebody else had said it," Gillian recalls.

She says that she did get a hearing aid when she was around 28 or 29 for her right ear, but found it uncomfortable and difficult to use. "I was going back and forth to the place where I got it initially." Eventually, she gave up on it.

She decided that given her hearing loss problem she couldn't work in that highly competitive industry any more. So Gillian decided to retrain and now works as a holistic and beauty therapist.

During the course of her work, she met a nurse, who told her she had hearing loss. Gillian told the nurse how she also suffered from hearing loss. "She showed me her hearing aid. It was tiny and it was the same colour as her hair. I had never seen anything like it before. I couldn't believe how lightweight it was," says Gillian.

She says that as a result of that conversation, she went to Hidden Hearing and got fitted with two digital hearing aids about a year and a half ago -- her left ear has also sustained some hearing loss at this stage.

Since then, she hasn't looked back, and has enjoyed a new lease of life. Gillian, who is married to Chris, has started to do night courses again, and a few months ago enjoyed a school reunion. She even took up piano lessons six months ago.

Her advice to others is: "You don't have to put up with hearing loss." She says that she would advise anybody who is affected by it to go and get it tested. "You will get something that fits you," she says.

Meanwhile, new research released to coincide with Hearing Awareness Week has revealed that one in three (33pc) of respondents said they felt embarrassed when they realised they had a problem with their hearing and 19pc said they felt old.

Dr Nina Byrnes, one of the presenters of RTE's Health of the Nation series and a medical consultant with Hidden Hearing, says that people should get checked out by their GP to ensure that problems they are experiencing are not being caused by something simple, such as wax. She urged that hearing loss should not be left unattended

She says that Hidden Hearing will be offering hearing tests for free in branches around Ireland. Meanwhile, a mobile hearing-test clinic will be visiting some of Ireland's cities and towns to provide free hearing tests.