It may not be a majority, but one sixth of a country’s population is still a massive number of people. So, with one sixth of the population of the UK (11 million people) suffering from hearing loss, it’s not hard to see that it’s an issue worth discussing and addressing.
If you or a loved one are experiencing hearing loss, without being fully sure what it even means, then this is the article for you. We’re here to unpack the surprisingly dense and busy topic of hearing loss, and make it easier to understand what’s really happening inside your ears.
If you’re at all worried about hearing loss, then it’d be a good idea to arrange a free hearing test. Our quick and simple form can set you up with a free hearing consultation with a hearing healthcare specialist near you.
What is hearing loss?
Few medical conditions have a name as perfectly descriptive as “hearing loss”. There really isn’t much more to it – it’s when you lose your hearing. How does this happen, though? What course of events needs to take place for an individual to lose their hearing?
Even though people use “hearing loss” as a blanket term for any problem with their ears, it’s really more of a category that houses all kinds of different conditions. To get a full grasp on the various conditions that can afflict your ears, check out our comprehensive article on hearing loss.
Hearing loss symptoms
What are the symptoms of hearing loss? Well, an easy one is noticing that your hearing is starting to fade. As obvious as this sounds, you might not notice your hearing is fading – it’s typically a very gradual process, meaning that someone undergoing hearing loss might not notice for years.
Some signs of hearing loss that you might want to look out for include having to turn up the TV or radio, or constantly having to ask people to repeat themselves. If you’ve caught yourself doing these things more frequently than you’d like, then you might have hearing loss.
Types of hearing loss by severity
Rather than following a binary format – “you either have hearing loss, or you don't” – hearing loss severity is measured on a scale, which is made up primarily of four levels.
As we’re sure you can tell, the scale ramps up considerably, from fairly tame hearing loss to practical deafness. Depending on how severe your hearing loss is, your course of action for treatment will vary.
For example, for mild and moderate hearing loss, you’ll probably be prescribed hearing aids. For severe or profound hearing loss, however, you might need something a bit more intensive. This could mean a cochlear implant, or a hearing aid with an assistive listening device (ALD).
Common causes of hearing loss
Hearing loss isn’t what you want to be dealing with at any point in your life – so how can it be avoided?
The most obvious cause of hearing loss, which almost anyone could predict, is an overindulgence of sound. In the same way that looking at the sun damages your eyes, taking in too much sound can cause real problems with your ears and hearing.
Concerts without earplugs, constant headphone use, working in a loud environment (like a factory or airfield) without proper protection – these are all activities that can put your hearing at both short term and long term risk.
There is also something known as ototoxicity – when an ingested substance has a damaging effect on your ears. Ototoxic substances can include things as obviously dangerous as tobacco and alcohol, as well as more inconspicuous substances, such as specific medications.
While they aren’t something you can really avoid, some diseases are also very damaging for your ear. This can be a temporary symptom of the disease – disappearing once the disease leaves your system – but if the fever is high enough, it can kill cells within the ear, leading to permanent hearing loss.
Some of these causes are easy to avoid, while others are a fair bit trickier. All you can do is stay aware and keep your wits about what you’re consuming, and the effects that consumption will have on your ears.
Other hearing conditions
Like we mentioned, “hearing loss” is a broad term that encompasses a lot of conditions. So what else falls under that term? Here are some common hearing conditions:
Tinnitus: It’s possible you know of this condition already, as tinnitus affects around 13% of people worldwide. Tinnitus is a simple condition – it’s a consistent ringing that can only be heard by the individual who suffers from the condition.
While this might not sound too devastating, if the condition is severe enough, it can cause real concerns – these include lack of sleep, heightened levels of stress, and other problems with your mental state.
Conductive hearing loss: The less common form of hearing loss, conductive hearing loss is any kind of hearing loss that is caused by a physical problem with the outer ear. This could be swelling in the ear canal, a damaged ossicle bone, or a problem with the eardrum.
This is the kind of hearing loss that is easiest to deal with, as most conductive hearing loss conditions can be remedied with a professional cleaning, prescribed medication, or if it comes to it, a simple operation.
Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL): This is by far the most common form of hearing loss, comprising around 90% of hearing loss cases. Sensorineural hearing loss addresses any issues that occur within the inner ear, from the cochlea to the nerves that connect the ear to the brain.
Unfortunately, no form of SNHL can be cured – it can only be treated by the appropriate hearing aid or technology.
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL): Usually related to sickness – it’s possible for someone to wake up one morning and notice extreme hearing loss in one ear. If addressed quickly enough, SSHL can be fixed through medication, but if left for too long, it may become permanent.
Presbycusis (age-induced hearing loss): Hearing loss sustained over a lifetime of sound exposure. Presbycusis takes the form of sensorineural hearing loss, as the small hair cells in the inner ear slowly die over the course of a person’s life.
Noise-induced hearing loss: It’s all there in the name – noise-induced hearing loss occurs after exposure to loud noise. This can occur from a single instance, like being near an explosion, or over time, like working alongside power tools for years.
Unilateral/bilateral hearing loss: Last but not least, unilateral hearing loss refers to hearing loss occurring in one ear, whereas bilateral hearing loss occurs in both ears at the same time. Bilateral hearing loss is generally associated with noise and age, while unilateral is typically paired with injury or disease.
What to do if you think you have hearing loss
Like we said earlier, it’s difficult to initially realise that you’re experiencing hearing loss. It can creep up on you for years, meaning you might not realise until it’s too late. The best rule to follow is: if you think you’re experiencing hearing loss, you probably are.
If you notice yourself missing things that people say, turning up the TV, or getting frustrated during conversations, you might want to look into a consultation with a hearing specialist. Don’t worry – it’s not a huge commitment, for either your time or your money, as it’s free if you fill in this short form.
Going to a consultation doesn’t mean you’re admitting defeat, either. There’s no shame in getting a hearing test – it can be a good idea even if you don’t suspect hearing loss. Getting a baseline for your hearing ability can be helpful for future hearing tests, as it offers a point of comparison.
Hearing tests are free, easy, and helpful – there’s no reason not to sign up.
There are some useful pieces of technology that can assist with hearing loss other than hearing aids.
Firstly, we have the personal sound amplification product (PSAP). These are far cheaper, as they only contain a microphone, amplifier, and speaker, and not the full set of features that come with a standard hearing aid. PSAPs can risk further damage to your hearing, however, so they should be used sparingly.
Then, on the other end of the spectrum, we have cochlear implants. These are surgically inserted into the head, and use electricity to bypass the first steps of the hearing process. Instead of the sound going through the outer ear, it’s sent directly to the auditory nerve. These are essentially last resorts, when even hearing aids won’t do the trick.
Finally, there’s a device called a “bone conduction hearing device.” These devices can look like headbands, glasses, or headphones, and send sound to the brain directly by vibrating the bones in the head. This helps people with conductive hearing loss or single-sided deafness.
Hearing loss overall
We’ll repeat for the final time: it’s very hard to notice the early stages of hearing loss. But if you do catch yourself showing signs, turning a blind eye (or a deaf ear) is only going to cause you trouble further down the road. The sooner your address it, the easier and cheaper it is to treat.
If you’d like to have a hearing test to gauge your level of hearing, you can arrange one with our free and easy form.