Meet our expert: Karen Shepherd is an experienced audiologist and Director of Professional Standards at Boots Hearingcare
From listening to our favourite tunes to enjoying a natter with friends, hearing well is an important part of our lives. Hearing loss, wax and ringing noises, which are all more common as we get older, can make it harder to hear clearly. If we struggle to follow a conversation we can begin to feel isolated. Audiologist Karen Shepherd explains why you might be missing more than usual and what to do if you think you might have a hearing problem.
Does everyone suffer from this?
No, it doesn’t happen to everyone and it isn’t possible to tell if it will affect you, even if you’ve a family history of hearing problems. In the UK ten million people, that’s one in six of us, have some kind of hearing loss and more than half are aged 65 or over.
Most hearing loss is due to the ageing process, but how well you hear can also be affected by other factors such as viruses and excessive noise exposure; for example if you listened to very loud music or worked with noisy machinery when you were younger.
Can catching it early make a difference?
If the cause is treatable, having it checked out early can stop your hearing getting worse. It can also prevent any long-term ear problems developing.
What are the signs to look for?
Depending on what’s caused your hearing loss, the signs can be different. With hearing difficulties caused by ageing or noise, your symptoms usually come on quite gradually. In fact, it’s often friends or family who pick up on the signs, such as if you are turning up the television louder than normal, having to ask people to repeat themselves or you are struggling to follow conversations.
With hearing loss caused by other factors, you may have sore ears, feel uncomfortable or dizzy, or have ear discharge. Ringing or noises in your ears is known as tinnitus and is often linked to hearing loss. A hearing check should tell you if you have tinnitus and how it’s likely to affect you.
If you have any of these symptoms, if your problem only affects one ear or your hearing deteriorates suddenly, you should get your ears examined straight away.
Do I need to see a GP to get a test?
No you don’t need a GP referral for a private hearing test. You can arrange a free hearing check with Boots within just a few days. To book your free Boots hearing check, call 0345 071 1277 or book online here.
Alternatively, you can ask your GP to refer you for a hearing test. They will be able to advise you about the different services in your area, including the NHS.
What happens during a hearing test?
You’ll be asked a few questions about your ears and the audiologist will examine them.
You’ll then be given headphones to wear and asked to press a button when you hear different noises in both ears. These sounds will change in volume until the audiologist finds the quietest noise you can hear. Finally a band will be placed on your head, which holds a vibrating pad against the back of your ear, to check your inner ear is working correctly.
The audiologist then looks at the results to see whether you have any hearing loss. The whole check usually takes about 10-15 minutes.
Can wax in my ears affect my hearing?
Your hearing is likely to sound muffled if there’s any blockage in your ear canal, which can be caused by wax. If you think wax might be making your hearing dulled, see a hearing care professional or your GP, who can take a look in your ear to check. Boots offer this service for free as part of a hearing test.
You can also manage wax yourself by using a natural product such as olive oil-based Earol (10ml for £4.99, Boots), which softens and helps remove earwax.
What are the treatment options?
This depends on what’s causing it. If it’s a medical cause, you may be given eardrops, fungal cream, antibiotics, steroids or potentially be offered surgery. But for most hearing loss, particularly if it comes on over time, this is permanent and can only be managed with a hearing aid.
Many people don’t like the idea of wearing a hearing aid, but they can be life-changing, enabling you to take part properly in conversations. They come in all sorts of designs and sizes, including an invisible one, which sits in your ear canal.
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