Hearing loss advice

How to recognise the signs and possible causes of hearing loss

Hearing loss advice

Many people don’t know they actually have hearing loss as the symptoms aren’t always as obvious as being deaf. Lots of people have milder forms of hearing loss and are simply unaware of the problem and how it’s affecting their lives. And those around you often notice before you do, especially if you have hearing loss in just one ear but you can still hear perfectly with the other.

  • Hearing loss is the 3rd most common health condition among adults
  • Over 40% of people over 50 in the UK have a hearing loss
  • 71% of people over the age of 70 in the UK have a hearing loss
  • Yet only about 40% of people who need hearing aids have them
  • People who have symptoms of early hearing loss will wait, on average, a decade from onset until they get their hearing tested.

(As reported by the charity RNID – the Royal National Institute for Deaf People.).

How to recognise the signs of hearing loss

If you recognise any of these signs of hearing loss, it would be a good idea to find out the extent of your possible loss, the cause and what can be done about it:

  1. Are you often asking people to repeat themselves?
  2. Do you often think people are mumbling when they speak to you?
  3. Do you turn up the volume on the TV to be able to hear it?
  4. Can you hear people clearly over the telephone?
  5. Do you struggle to hold a conversation in noisy places?
  6. Do you sometimes not hear cars approaching when you’re out and about, or the doorbell ring when you’re at home?
  7. Do you have persistent ringing in your ears?

Types of hearing loss

Hearing loss simply means that the sounds around us aren’t being communicated fully to our brain and there can be various reasons for this. The main types of hearing loss are:

Sensorineural hearing loss

This is caused by a degeneration of the nerves and sensory cells in the inner ear, known as the cochlea. Much age-related hearing loss is sensorineural and it can include ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and is generally gradual in its onset. Sensorineural hearing loss can also be caused by infection, injury and exposure to loud noise.

Conductive hearing loss

Sound passes through the ear canal to the inner ear, agitating the hair receptors and moving through the auditory nerve to be interpreted by the brain. When the sound is reduced or interrupted by a blockage in the outer or middle ear, conductive hearing loss occurs. This presents itself as muffled or soft sound and speech that is hard to understand at normal levels. There can be many causes for conductive hearing loss, including head injuries, concussion, loud noises, disease of the middle ear and blockages – including wax in the ear canal.

Mixed hearing loss

When conductive and sensorineural hearing loss are combined, the hearing loss is said to be mixed. This means a reduction in volume and clarity occurs in both the middle and outer ear, as well as the inner ear.

Your audiologist can determine the cause and extent of your hearing loss by examining and testing your hearing. Hearing tests with us are free – book now.

Understanding the severity of your hearing loss

Hearing loss is measured in decibels (dB) and generally grouped into the following ranges:

Normal hearing (<20dBHL)

You can hear quiet sounds, although it is possible to have hearing difficulties, even if your hearing is in this range.

Mild hearing loss (20 – 40dBHL)

You typically struggle with quiet conversation and when you’re in noisy surroundings, you find it more difficult to understand what is being said.

Moderate hearing loss (41 – 70dBHL)

You typically need the TV and radio volume turned up in order to hear it, and you struggle with normal conversation and especially when you’re in a group of people talking.

Severe hearing loss (71 – 95dBHL)

You typically struggle to hear any conversation, and understanding what is being said in a group environment or without any amplification is virtually impossible.

Profound hearing loss (>95dBHL)

Typically it’s difficult or impossible for you to hear and understand speech and amplified devices.

Your audiologist will be able to advise you on the level of your hearing loss and will show you your loss on a graph called an audiogram. Hearing tests are painless and non-invasive. Find out more about what to expect when you have a hearing test.

Common causes of hearing loss

Hearing loss can have many causes, most commonly:

  • Age related hearing loss

    By far the most common and a natural part of the aging process is age related, also called Presbycusis. Find out more about age related hearing loss.

  • Noise induced hearing loss

    Excessive long term exposure to intense noise can cause noise induced hearing loss. This is caused by damage to the hair cells in the cochlea because of the force of impact on the hair cells when the noise occurs. This damage can be temporary or permanent, and noise induced hearing loss is the second most common form of hearing loss, after age related hearing loss.

  • Congenital hearing loss

    This is hearing loss present since birth. Up to half of all severe to profound hearing loss is due to a hereditary or genetic cause that is congenital. Non hereditary congenital hearing loss can be due to teratogenic drugs taken during pregnancy or viral infections contracted by the mother during pregnancy. Hereditary congenital hearing loss can be caused by Down syndrome, Usher syndrome and several other less prevalent syndromes.

  • Genetic hearing loss

    Hearing loss due to your genetic make up can be present from birth (congenital) or there can in fact be a delayed onset, where a hearing loss develops over time – even years. Genetic hearing loss is either progressive, meaning it becomes worse over time, or non-progressive, meaning it stays the same. There are believed to be over 400 types of genetic hearing loss and in 60-70% of cases, it’s been found that it is not associated with any other hereditary condition.

  • Bilateral hearing loss

    This affects both ears and the loss can be sensorineural or conductive. Bilateral simply means a loss of hearing in both ears, and it can be gradual, occurring over time or happen very suddenly.

  • Middle Ear infection

    These are relatively common, especially in young children, though anyone can suffer from an ear infection at any age. The most common symptom is earache but dulled hearing or temporary deafness in one ear can also occur. Other symptoms include itching, high temperature, ear discharge, red or swollen ear canal and dry skin or eczema in or around the ear canal. You should speak to your GP if you have any of these symptoms.

    Tell-tale signs in younger children are when they are rubbing, pulling or tugging at their ear, along with being irritable and having a high temperature, and perhaps a runny nose and poor appetite. Consult your doctor if your child has these symptoms. Middle ear infections can cause complications if left untreated, though this is rare it is best to seek advice if you’re uncertain.

  • Fungal Ear infection

    Fungal ear infection in the outer ear, known as Otomycosis, can cause reduced or complete loss of hearing in one ear, redness, itchiness and pain. Symptoms include a thick discharge, usually yellow, but can be black or white, redness, soreness and itchiness. If you experience this, you should speak to your GP.

    Eczema can be a factor in causing fungal ear infections, but anything that reduces the amount of ear wax in your ear is contributory, as ear wax acts as a protective lining against fungus that can occur by getting water in your ears or using cotton buds.

  • Outer Ear infection

    Infections in your outer ear can be acute or chronic. Acute infections tend to come on suddenly but once treated usually disappear within 7 days. Chronic infections last much longer and can be recurring. Temporary dull hearing in one ear is a symptom, or loss of hearing if the swelling blocks the ear canal. Other symptoms include itchiness, high temperature, discharge from the ear, dry skin or eczema around the ear canal, earache and a red or swollen ear canal. If you experience these symptoms, you should speak to your GP.
    Outer ear infections can be caused by trying to remove ear wax on your own.

  • Tinnitus

    This is constant or intermittent ringing in one or both ears and whilst tinnitus affects about 10% of the UK population, it can also be a symptom of other underlying conditions. Find out more about tinnitus.

  • Ear wax

    Hearing loss, ear pain and ear discomfort can all be a sign that you are suffering from a build up of ear wax. Ear wax is essential for healthy ears but it can also be problematic and need to be removed.
    Find out more about our wax removal service.

Treatment of hearing loss

Once your audiologist knows the level of your loss, they’ll be able to talk through your options for clearer hearing with you. Finding out you’re experiencing hearing loss and receiving treatment can rarely reverse damage, but it can:

  • Make your life easier.
  • Slow down your hearing loss by knowing and addressing the root cause.
  • Help your mental sharpness, as hearing loss can impair the brain’s ability to process sound and recognise speech.
  • Help the onset of dementia, according to recent studies.

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