Everything you need to know about living well with hearing loss
If you are wondering, ‘what is hearing loss?’, read on to find out more. Having hearing loss can feel lonely and frustrating, so this guide also provides other sources of hearing loss support and advice.
If you are concerned about any of the hearing loss symptoms you read here, please consult your GP.
Hearing loss refers to an inability to hear, which may be temporary, permanent, full hearing loss or partial loss. It is often described as being ‘hard of hearing’ or ‘deaf’. It can also be referred to as ‘hearing impairment’. There are different types of hearing loss classified by the cause of the impairment and how severe it is.
If you are living with hearing loss, you are not alone. In the UK, there are over 10 million people with some form of hearing loss and over half a million people are completely deaf. Many people develop hearing loss as they age, but some people are born with hearing loss. The important thing to remember is that there are hearing loss treatments available, as well as hearing loss aids to support you.
If you are interested in finding ways to protect your hearing and help prevent future problems developing, the NHS website provides 5 tips, including reducing the volume of music, television and so on.
• Ear wax build up
• Perforated eardrum
• Otitis media with effusion or ‘glue ear’
• Chronic suppurative otitis media
• Otitis externa
• Ossicle damage
• Meniere’s disease
• Usher syndrome
• Acoustic neuroma
Hearing loss may also occur as part of the ageing process, or due to loud noise exposure over a long period of time. For example, someone working with very loud tools such as drills may be at high risk of developing hearing loss over time. Listening to loud music is also a risk factor. For further information on problems in the ear and hearing loss causes, visit the Action on Hearing Loss website which provides several information leaflets that may help you.
There are generally thought to be two types of hearing loss, ‘conductive hearing loss’ or ‘sensorineural hearing loss’.
If you are given a diagnosis of hearing loss, you are likely to be diagnosed with either of these, or a combination of the two, determined by what is causing the hearing loss.
The type of hearing loss you have, will be determined by where within in the ear your problems are occurring. The ear is a very complex organ, with many small parts that all need to work together effectively to ensure good hearing.
Some hearing loss will be temporary, some will be longer term, and some may be permanent. Your GP may be able to ascertain where the problem lies, but you are likely to be referred to an audiologist for further testing and confirmation, and they will discuss treatments with you.
Conductive hearing loss is caused by a blockage in, or damage to, the middle ear. The middle ear is made up of the eardrum and ossicles. This disruption restricts the ear’s ability to transmit sound.
In sensorineural hearing loss, the problem lies in the cochlea or the nerves involved in transmitting sound messages to the brain.
If you have been given a hearing loss diagnosis, and it’s believed to be permanent, then the severity of your hearing impairment is usually defined by the level of decibels you can hear. ‘Normal’ hearing ability is considered to be within the range of -10 to 20 decibels.
To understand further about how the ear functions and the various parts that may be affected in different hearing loss types, visit the Action on Hearing Loss website.
Everyone with a form of hearing loss will experience this differently, depending on what causes hearing loss in their case. It is important to remember that hearing loss does not only affect older people and is not just a normal part of ageing. Sometimes, hearing loss symptoms occur slowly or are hardly noticeable. You may notice them only occasionally. For some people, hearing loss comes on much more quickly or is quite severe. If you or someone you know suddenly loses their hearing or becomes deaf – this could be a medical emergency and you should visit Accident and Emergency.
We list common symptoms of hearing loss below, as well as suggest ways you may be able to spot hearing loss in a child. If you are concerned about any of the symptoms you read here, please visit your GP.
Symptoms of hearing loss often include:
• Feeling as though you cannot hear what people are saying, and perhaps asking them to repeat what they said
• Feeling as though you need to turn the TV, radio or music up – usually more loudly than others feel is right for them
• Finding it hard to hear the phone ringing, or visitors ringing the bell/knocking on the door
• Finding it difficult to tell which direction noise is coming from
• Having to concentrate really hard to hear people or sounds, which can feel stressful or tiring
These may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as dizziness.
If you have a child who you feel may have a hearing loss, there are several things to look out for. If your child is under 18 months old, they should react when you say their name or if there is a loud noise. They should be able to say simple words (e.g. ‘dada’) by this age, and if they do not, this could suggest they are not forming language because they cannot hear language around them. Similarly, if you have an older child who appears to have some issues with language and speaking, or if they talk very loudly or do not reply when you speak to them, it is important to have their hearing checked by your GP. Babies and children usually undergo routine hearing tests. To find out more about this, visit the NHS website.
If you are concerned that you may have a hearing loss, Action on Hearing Loss provides a wealth of information, as well as an online hearing test.
If you think you or your child are experiencing these symptoms, you should visit your GP, who will examine the ears to look for abnormalities such as infection, blockage or damage. They may conduct a tuning fork test, or refer you elsewhere for this or other tests including a bone conduction test or a pure tone audiometry test. If you are given a diagnosis of hearing loss, your GP will also discuss treatment options available to you and aids for hearing loss that you may need, depending on the severity of your condition.
If you would like further information about hearing tests and how they are performed, visit the NHS website for more information.
Living with hearing loss will be a different experience for each individual depending on the severity of your hearing impairment, its causes and the prognosis given to you.
In this section, we explore issues that you may come across if you are living with hearing loss, or have recently been given a diagnosis of hearing loss. We look at hearing loss treatment that may be available to you, depending on the type of hearing loss you have. We also consider hearing loss products you might find helpful.
If your hearing loss is likely to be permanent, you may feel a range of emotions and be concerned about how this will affect your day to day life and future. Some people find hearing loss causes them to become lonely or to feel isolated, but many people with varying degrees of hearing loss, and those who are profoundly deaf, are able to live full and active lives. Later, we provide a number of sources for hearing loss support that may help you retain a sense of wellbeing.
If you are finding communication difficult, it can help to tell the person you are speaking to or communicating with that you have hearing loss. Tell them if you would like them to speak more slowly, or ask them to repeat things.
You may find it useful to learn to lip read, which involves concentrating on a person’s lips and facial movements when they’re talking, in order to try to understand what they are saying. This can be quite challenging, but there are classes available across the UK that can help you to learn. Some people find this beneficial, as it supports their hearing. For more information, or to find local classes, contact the Association of Teachers of Lipreading to Adults
If you are a friend or relative of someone with hearing loss, you may want to look at ways you can help speak more clearly. Hearing Dogs for Deaf People provides tips for communicating with someone who is deaf or has some degree of hearing loss.
Most people have heard of British Sign Language (BSL), which is a way of communicating using hands and movements but without relying on sound to convey meaning. British Sign Language is learned and adopted by people who are deaf or who have hearing loss, as well as people who have no hearing impairments. It is a secondary language to some people which allows them to communicate with deaf friends, loved ones and colleagues. For others, it is their main source of communication. If you are interested in BSL, particularly if you have a child who is deaf, the National Deaf Children’s Society provides information that may help you.
If you have some degree of hearing loss and are finding some daily tasks difficult, there are hearing loss products that you may find useful. At Healthcare Pro, we are experts in daily living aids, which are products designed to help you live independently at home or when you’re out and about. Here, we list some hearing loss aids that can help with communication and make it easier to hear the door, telephone, and TV.
PLEASE NOTE: our Expert Advice Service can only give advice about equipment and products which may help you to live more independently. They cannot give any advice on medications or treatments for symptoms of this condition.
Your GP will be able to recommend treatment for hearing loss that is available to you, depending on what causes your hearing loss.
Temporary hearing loss caused by a build-up of earwax may get better without treatment. Sometimes, an ear wax blockage can be treated at home, using drops that are available from a local chemist. Some people also treat ear wax blockage with olive oil. We would recommend that if you are concerned about any problems with your ear or hearing loss symptoms, that you consult your GP in the first instance. You may be prescribed a course of antibiotics if a bacterial infection is causing hearing difficulties.
Some people will be advised to have surgery to treat hearing loss. There are a few common surgical procedures that may be recommended to you, depending on what causes hearing loss in your case. For example, a myringotomy may be performed if you have fluid in the middle ear; a cochlear implant may be recommended if you have profound hearing loss; and stapes surgery may be suggested for people with otosclerosis.
If you have acoustic neuroma, you may be advised to have translabyrinthine surgery , and a tympanoplasty which repairs parts of the eardrum and middle ear. The charity ‘For Deaf People' provides further details about various types of surgery to correct hearing impairments.
There is much research underway looking into further treatments for hearing loss. To find out more about this, visit the Action on Hearing Loss website for an overview of their current projects.
Some people will find they require a hearing aid to improve their hearing. Hearing aids are available from the NHS if you are prescribed one by your GP or audiologist. Hearing aids are also available privately.
Some people may feel that wearing a hearing aid comes with a stigma. However, most people find that with the right hearing aid, their hearing loss symptoms are reduced, their hearing ability is improved, and this has a positive effect on their confidence and lifestyle. Hearing aids today tend to be designed much more discreetly compared to old-fashioned hearing aids, and are often very effective at improving hearing. There are many types of aids for hearing loss including:
• Behind-the-ear (BTE): consists of two parts - an ear mould inside the ear and a second part behind the ear. Also available as a version where the main section that receives sound is positioned behind the ear, and a wire is placed in the ear canal
• In-the-ear (ITE): consists of a one-piece ear mould
• In-the-canal (ITC): sits in the ear canal and is slightly visible
• Completely in-the-canal (CIC): suitable for severe hearing loss and very discreet
• Body-worn (BW): powerful and less fiddly than ear-worn aids, as they consist of a small box that attaches to clothing, connected to an ear mould
• CROS and BiCROS: if a person can hear in just one ear, they may be prescribed one of these, which carries sound from one side to the hearing side
• Bone conduction: sound is distributed using vibrations through the head to the cochlea. These often come with a headband on to which the device is attached. Sometimes they come with glasses and some people actually have a device surgically affixed behind their ear
Action on Hearing Loss provide a downloadable leaflet covering all aspects of living with a hearing aid.
Many people with hearing loss are able to continue to work, and young people with hearing loss are able to find employment. However, some people feel that they come across negative attitudes towards their hearing loss at work. You have the right to request that reasonable changes are put in place to support you, if you are finding your job difficult due to your hearing impairment. Your employer must consider your requests fairly. Citizens Advice are able to offer impartial advice if you feel your needs are not being met.
Action on Hearing Loss provides a wealth of information about finding work and their ‘Working for change’ campaign aims to change the way people think about hearing loss and work.
We hope this guide to hearing loss has been helpful to you. There are many other resources online, and several hearing charities and organisations that provide a source of advice and support. Our resources section below provides other sources of information and hearing loss help.
Your GP should be the first port of call if you are concerned about your hearing or any aspect of your health. If you are finding living with hearing loss challenging, you may find it useful to talk to other people in a similar situation to share experiences of your conditions, treatments, daily challenges, etc. There is a selection of hearing loss support groups listed below that you may wish to join.
Action on Hearing Loss – provides a huge amount of information and advice for people with hearing loss and their family, on every aspect of hearing loss and living with it
British Deaf News – an online magazine with stories relevant to the deaf community
DeafBlind – provides information and support for people living with combined hearing and sight loss
For Deaf People– provides helpful information about lots of topics related to hearing loss
National Deaf Children’s Society – provides support for families experiencing hearing loss
NHS – provides medical information on healthcare conditions
Royal Association for Deaf People – specialists in British Sign Language and communication, with training courses available
Sense - provides information and support to families with children who have sensory impairments and complex needs
Although we always try to explain things as simply and as clearly as possible, sometimes it’s necessary to use the correct medical terminology. Medical terms are often known for being tricky to pronounce and if you’re not an expert in the subject, they can also be a little difficult to understand. Below, we’ve put together a list of terms used on this page along with a brief explanation of what they mean to help make your understanding of hearing loss as straightforward as possible.
– this condition is caused by a non-cancerous tumour growing on the vestibular nerve, which connects the brain to the ear
– a specialist in hearing and related areas such as balance
Bone conduction test
– tests how well a person can hear vibrations through nerves, using a bone oscillator tool
Chronic suppurative otitis media
– similar to ‘glue ear’, this is caused by several episodes of fluid in the middle ear, which leads to permanent eardrum damage and hearing loss
– part of the inner ear that plays a crucial part in hearing; it receives vibrations which then causes movement that turns vibrations into messages for the brain
– a device that is surgically placed in the head of a person with profound hearing loss due to a damaged ear. It is electronic, and its main function is to send sound messages to the brain
– the way that the level or intensity of sound is measured
Ear wax build up
– ear wax is naturally produced in the ear and performs a protective and cleaning role. Wax that builds up can block the ear, causing temporary hearing loss
– a condition that causes exostoses (swelling of the bone) in the ear canal, which narrows the ear canal and leads to hearing loss. Usually caused by really cold water getting into the ears frequently
– an electronic, medical device with sophisticated technology that is used by people with sensorineural hearing loss
– a condition where the fluid within the inner ear is disrupted, causing dizzy spells and hearing problems
– a fairly minor surgical procedure that cuts into the eardrum, removes fluid and, if necessary, inserts grommets
– the set of three bones within the ear, which send sounds to the cochlea
– usually caused by an infection, allergy, damage or skin condition that leads to inflammation of the outer ear canal
Otitis media with effusion or ‘glue ear’
– temporary hearing loss, usually experienced by children. Caused by fluid being trapped in the middle ear, which can rectify itself or which can be rectified by minor surgery to insert grommets
– the ossicles are little bones within the middle section of the ear, which can be damaged by infection or injury, and which leads to hearing loss
– a condition that causes bone to grow abnormally around the ossicles in the ear, causing hearing loss
– a problem that causes temporary loss of hearing and which can be treated fairly successfully. Caused by infection or injury to the ear, which makes the delicate eardrum break
Pure tone audiometry
– tests hearing ability by the level of intensity and tone
– minor surgical operation to treat otosclerosis, which involves removing the stape (a bone in the middle ear). The bone is usually replaced with a steel prosthesis
– strange noises in the ears, e.g. buzzing, which can affect hearing
– surgical procedure that removes acoustic neuroma (tumour) within the ear
Tuning fork test
– a traditional hearing test that involves using a tuning fork, striking it and placing it behind the ear to assess if and when you hear the sound
– a surgical procedure that repairs the eardrum, ossicles or removes infection from the back of the ear
– a rare, inherited disorder causing hearing loss and sight loss