Hearing loss: causes, prevention and treatment

Audiologist Farah Kiani explains more.

woman holding ear

by Emily Gilbert |

For many of us, hearing loss is just part of the process of getting older. But how do you know if it's something you're experiencing and what exactly can you do about it? We spoke to Farah Kiani, audiologist at high street hearing specialist Hidden Hearing, to find out more.

What are the signs and symptoms of hearing loss?

Some of the early stages of hearing loss include muffling of speech and other sounds, difficulty understanding words, frequently asking people to repeat themselves and turning up the volume of the television or radio. If you’ve noticed any of these, it’s important to get your hearing tested.

In the first instance, you can get your hearing checked by taking an online hearing test at www.hiddenhearing.co.uk/news, which will give you an indication of the level of your hearing loss. If your results show you have some degree of hearing loss, the next step would be to arrange an appointment with a hearing care expert who will be able to conduct an assessment to determine how well you hear.

Sudden hearing loss

Hearing loss can sometimes happen suddenly. For example, sudden hearing loss in one ear may be due to a build-up of earwax, an ear infection, a perforated eardrum or Meniere’s disease. Sudden hearing loss in both ears may be due to damage from a very loud noise, or taking certain medicines that can affect hearing. If you’re concerned about your hearing, speak to your GP or a hearing care expert.

Is hearing loss in one ear more common than in both?

Normal age-related hearing loss – presbycusis - typically affects both ears equally, so if you notice your hearing loss is more severe in one ear, it might be something else, such as an ear infection, earwax, or more seriously, sudden single-sided deafness, which is considered a medical emergency and should be seen to straight away.

What are the causes of hearing loss?

The most common type of hearing loss is sensorineural hearing loss, or age-related hearing loss. 40 per cent of people over age 50 will experience some form of hearing loss, rising to 70 per cent in those over aged 70. This type of hearing loss occurs when the inner ear or the actual nerve itself becomes damaged. This loss generally occurs when some of the hair cells within the cochlea are damaged.

Conductive hearing loss is also common, when sounds are unable to pass from your outer ear to your inner ear, often because of a blockage such as earwax, glue ear or a build-up of fluid from an ear infection.

man getting hearing test

When should I get medical help?

A lot of people believe hearing loss is something you have to put up with as you get older, but that shouldn’t be the case. If you start to experience changes in your hearing, visit your GP or a hearing care expert as soon as possible. A hearing care expert will be able to conduct a full audiometric hearing assessment to identify the extent of any loss.

What are the treatments for hearing loss?

Hearing loss caused by earwax build up can be treated using eardrops. Irrigation (flushing the wax out using water) and microsuction (using a vacuum to suck the wax out). This needs to be conducted by a hearing specialist following a full inspection of the ear.

Other types of hearing loss – such as gradual hearing loss that can happen as you get older – may be permanent, however hearing aids can help make sounds louder and clearer.

It is important to remember that the success of a particular hearing solution can vary significantly from one person to the next, due to factors such as the cause and severity of the loss, as well as lifestyle, limitations to dexterity and personal choice.

There’s a wide range of hearing instruments available in terms of shapes, sizes and colours. Treatment for hearing loss can therefore be highly personalised to the individual to ensure that they hear the best they can and a hearing care expert will be able to deliver advice following a full hearing assessment.

Can hearing loss be prevented?

Protecting what you have is key - you can protect your ears by following the 60/60 rule - listening with headphones at no more than 60 per cent volume for no more than 60 minutes a day. If you’re attending loud events, wear earplugs and give your ears time to recover afterwards.

Don’t use cotton swabs, the ears are self-cleaning organs and wax stops dust and other harmful particles from entering the canal. Plus, inserting anything in your ear canals risk damaging sensitive organs like your eardrum.

Lastly, treat your ears as you would your teeth or eyes, and get regular hearing tests.

Locate a loop with new interactive map for hearing aid users

Hearing aid users can ‘locate a loop’ on a new interactive map that highlights shops and venue offering a clear service.

‘Let’s Hear’ is a website that allows users to log in and register shops, banks, businesses and public buildings that have a hearing loop. They can also rate how well it works and comment on the support offered by staff.

The site is hosted by IHLMA, the International Hearing Loop Manufacturers Association.

“Being able to hear clearly is a basic right everyone should be able to enjoy when they go shopping or out for entertainment,” said IHLMA Chair, Andrew Thomas.

“’Let’s Hear’ is a fantastic tool for people with hearing loss to share information and let each other know where they can get the best service. This website will help people find the venues that best meet their needs so they can decide where to spend their money.”

Hearing loops amplify the sound users want to hear, cutting out distracting background noise. They are commonly used at checkouts, customer service desks, reception areas and in larger venues like theatres to enable audience members to hear the dialogue.

‘Let’s Hear’ also allows businesses to highlight the loops they have available and any training staff have undertaken. Once information has been uploaded, users will be able to search for loops via the map and postcode search.

“With the advent of COVID-19, hearing loops have become even more important as people struggle to hear staff through protective screens and their ability to lip-read is compromised by face masks,” added Andrew. “Loops can be simply installed and offer a discreet but incredibly effective aid to communication for many of the 12 million people in the UK living with hearing loss.”

Ted Pottage has profound hearing loss and wears two hearing aids. He says he is loyal to businesses that offer hearing loops because without them, shopping is too challenging.

“The local convenience store has got a clearly-signed working loop which is really very good and I will go to that store happily. While the big supermarkets do have hearing loops, they don’t have them on every till and it can be very frustrating, when you’ve unloaded all your shopping, to find that because the signage is missing or hidden, it’s the till next to you that has the loop.

“It is great that I can share this information with other people to save them the time and frustration of not being able to hear.”

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