Within the UK, estimates reveal that 1 in 6 people have a problem with their hearing. However, on average, people who notice symptoms of hearing loss will wait 10 years before consulting a doctor.
Loss of hearing may occur suddenly or over a period of time. There are a number of common symptoms and causes that can help to identify hearing loss. However, consulting a medical professional is the best option for determining the right diagnosis and consequent treatment.
It is not always easy to detect hearing loss. Although signs may vary depending on the extent of hearing loss, there are a number of common indicators.
- trouble hearing or misunderstanding what people are saying, particularly in noisy environments
- asking people to repeat what they have said
- straining to hear what others are saying or getting frustrated that you are having difficulty following conversations
- turning up music or the television to a loud volume in order to hear/understand it
Hearing loss happens when sound signals cannot reach the brain and there are many reasons why this may occur.
Most common causes can often be grouped depending on whether hearing loss is gradual or sudden and whether it occurs in both ears or is just isolated to one.
- Sudden hearing loss that is limited to one ear may be the result of a build-up of earwax, an ear infection, a perforated eardrum, Ménière’s disease, a stroke or sudden head injury.
- Gradual hearing loss in one ear can be attributed to something within the ear, such as fluid, a bony growth (otosclerosis) or a skin cell build-up (cholesteatoma).
- Sudden hearing loss in both ears may be the result of damage caused by a single loud noise, or the consumption of certain medicines that possibly affect hearing function.
- Gradual hearing loss in both ears is usually a result of the ageing process or exposure to loud noises (e.g., music or construction noise) over a long period of time.
Although hearing loss may not always be prevented, there are certain simple steps that can be taken, that may be recommended whilst hearing is still good, that can reduce the risk of damage/further damage to your hearing.
- instead of turning up the volume whilst using headphones, using headphones that block out more external noise
- being aware and not raising the radio, television or music volume too loud
- using ear protection at events that have high noise levels (e.g., concerts)
- avoiding putting objects into your or children’s ears (e.g., fingers, tissues and cotton buds)
- in jobs that occupy a noisy environment (e.g., garage workshop or construction site) making sure to wear ear protection (e.g., ear defenders)
Other treatments beyond preventative measures depend on the severity of hearing loss. In some cases, hearing loss can improve on its own or be treated with medicine or a basic procedure. For example, earwax may be softened with eardrops or alternatively sucked out.
However, other types of hearing loss may be more permanent, such as gradual hearing loss. In these instances, other treatments can help to maximise what hearing is left.
- There are a number of different types of hearing aids that can be acquired either privately or through the NHS.
- Implants are available where hearing aids are not appropriate. These devices can either be attached to your skull or placed deep within the ear.
- Alternative methods of communication may also be pursued (e.g., lip reading or sign language.)