A Closer Look at Hearing Loss
Millions of people worldwide are affected by hearing loss, whether from experiencing it themselves, or from a friend or family member suffering from it.
Our hearing is so integrated into our lifestyle that it is easy to take for granted. We rely on it to communicate with others, socially and professionally, we use it to keep us out of danger, and to unwind and relax.
It can be hard to notice it happening, as hearing loss tends to be a gradual process. If you find yourself in a world of muted or less distinct sounds, you may have incurred hearing loss.
People react in a variety of ways to noticing hearing loss; some like to research and ask questions to find out as much as possible about the situation. Others may not be able to accept it so readily and may feel worried, vulnerable and angry.
There is no right or wrong way to react, but by booking a hearing test and receiving a diagnosis from a professional, you can start to make some informed decisions about which treatment you want to proceed with. Hearing aids or assistive listening devices may significantly improve your quality of life. Click here to book a free hearing test now.
Hearing loss is defined as ‘a decrease in a person’s sensitivity to sound.’
- There are three types of hearing loss: Sensorineural, Conductive and mixed.
- There are four clinical levels of hearing loss (mild, moderate, severe, and profound).
- It can happen gradually or suddenly, as a result of ageing, illness, noise exposure, trauma and more.
- It can affect one or both ears.
- Presbycusis (age-related hearing loss) is the cumulative effect that aging has on our hearing organs and is classed as a sensorineural hearing loss.
Degrees of hearing loss
There is a range in severity of hearing loss classed in four levels: mild, moderate, severe, and profound. The level of sound and hearing loss are measured in decibels (dB), conversational speech is measured at around 65(dB).
Usually difficult to hear soft sounds like rustling leaves or soft speech in conversation.
Typically soft sounds such as ‘s’, ‘t’, ‘th’ and ‘f’ are hard to distinguish with a mild hearing loss.
Can converse well in quiet environments but would not be able to hear a clock ticking, for example.
Typically hard to follow a conversation, especially if in a noisy environment. Usually requires higher volumes for TV and radio.
Conversational speech and background office noise fall into this category so are often lost.
Conversational speech is inaudible, even when enhanced by the speaker.
Amplification with hearing aids can help with comprehension of sounds but will not sound ‘normal’ to the wearer.
Cannot hear telephone ringing, doorbell, or alarm clock.
Profound (91dB or more)
Comprehending speech is very difficult even with the help of amplification.
Speech can be completely inaudible.
Cannot hear emergency vehicle sirens, fireworks or a jet plane.
Signs of hearing loss
- Asking people to repeat themselves often
- Finding it hard to tell where noise is coming from
- Feeling embarrassed when you meet new people as you struggle to hear them
- Often feeling tired or stressed (from having to concentrate when you listen)
- Group conversations are hard to follow
- Missing the doorbell or the phone ringing
- Family and friends telling you that the TV or radio is too loud
- Finding it hard to make out speech in a noisy environment
- Unable to hear higher frequencies like women or children’s voices
- A ringing or buzzing sound in one or both of your ears. This is called tinnitus and is often related to hearing loss
- Frustration when talking to people as you feel like you can hear them but you can’t understand what they are saying
Symptoms of hearing loss
- Increased difficulty in communicating – this can cause a drop in quality of life as missing certain sounds can make people feel excluded and frustrated.
- Often feeling stressed or tired from having to concentrate intensely when listening.
- Feeling bewildered, uncertain or a little fearful.
- Feeling frustrated and blaming friends and family for not being able to hear them. It can often feel as though other people are mumbling.
- Causing the person to withdraw from social situations, as they find it difficult to communicate and may feel embarrassed asking people to repeat themselves often.
- Feeling angry, vulnerable and worried.
- Less personal and professional opportunities as it is hard for the person to communicate clearly and efficiently. This could lead to health problems like depression and anxiety.
- Causing the person to become socially isolated, leading to a delay in seeking treatment. This can allow the hearing to deteriorate further as the brain can adapt to each degree of hearing that is lost and eventually get used to this new, lower level of hearing.
How to manage hearing loss
- Be honest and upfront when talking to friends and family. With a little understanding from them, you may not feel so isolated.
- Make sure to face the person you are talking to in a well-lit room so that you can see their lips moving and read their facial expressions.
- Pay attention to the speaker and look for visual clues. Ask for written notes if needed.
- If your hearing is better in one ear, position yourself so that the speaker is more likely to direct speech into your stronger ear.
- Let the speaker know when you don’t understand what they are saying. Sometimes you can let the conversation flow to get the gist of it, but if you become lost at any point, stop the discussion to ask for clarification.
- The type of room or space you are in can affect your hearing. Sound fades over distance so keep close to the speaker.
- Hard floors and other surfaces can cause sounds to bounce and echo. It is easier to hear in rooms with carpeting and upholstered furniture.
- Try to limit the amount of background noise. For speech to be heard easily, it should be around 25 decibels louder than the surrounding sounds.
- Take small communication breaks throughout the day; you tend to use more energy on communicating when you have a hearing loss so use this time to relax.
These tips can help if you have a mild hearing loss. If you are really struggling to hear day to day, speaking to an audiologist, and going for a hearing test, can help you to decide whether you need extra help like hearing aids or a cochlear implant.
Hearing aids have come a long way in the last few years, they are now a lot more streamlined and designed to fit a large variety of lifestyles and budgets. They can be individually programmed to help with many different types of hearing loss, and you can often choose the colour and style. There are even styles that are hidden and fit entirely in the ear canal; it is not a one size fits all approach anymore.
Adapting to hearing aids can be a challenge, but with the help of an audiologist or audiometrist you can overcome initial difficulties and the majority of people go on to find they have a significant improvement in the quality of their life.
Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs)
Hearing aids are crucial for many people, but lots of other equipment can work with, or alongside, them to assist you in performing daily tasks and hearing everyday sounds. They are usually particularly helpful around the home, in the workplace or public spaces.
Here are some things that people find useful:
Alerters for doorbells or phones – these help to draw your attention by making an additional sound, flashing or vibrating, or a combination of these.
Paging systems – a range of different devices can send you alerts straight to a vibrating pager using radio signals. You can clip these to your clothes, wear it on your wrist or even put it under your pillow. You can be alerted to smoke alarms, alarm clocks, phones and doorbells.
FM systems (AKA personal listeners) – These consist of a microphone that you can attach to the person speaking, and a receiver attached to your hearing aid. The microphone picks up the speaker’s voice and sends a wireless radio signal straight to the hearing aid, so that you get a clear sound.
Telephones, televisions and headphones can be assisted by ALDs to have increased volume levels, so that people with hearing loss can use them. Most devices can be used in conjunction with a hearing aid or alone for those needing a slight boost in amplification.
The stages of hearing loss
- Not knowing you have a hearing loss
At first, it can be hard to notice a hearing loss as it can start off as very mild and not affect your day to day life. It can become more obvious when things like following a conversation in a noisy environment, or failing to hear someone talking in a different room, become more difficult.
Some signs you might recognise:
- Avoiding social situations
- Turning up the volume on your TV, phone, or radio
- Frustration – blaming others for not speaking clearly
- Friends and family urging you to get your hearing tested 2. Noticing the hearing loss
As you become conscious of a problem, you may feel withdrawn and vulnerable, anxiety and anger are also often experienced.
You may find yourself:
- Having trouble communicating effectively
- Being tired or stressed more often than usual
- Trying online hearing tests, worrying about the causes and/or the future of your hearing. 3. Taking action
On average it takes seven years after initial symptoms for people to seek help for a hearing loss. It’s better to take action as soon as possible. You can do this by:
- Discussing your hearing loss with friends and family
- Researching hearing loss and your options
- Approaching a doctor or audiologist
4. Getting a diagnosis
Knowing which type of hearing loss you have and to which degree, can take an immense amount of pressure off. With this information, you can start to make informed choices about your treatment. You can get this information by going for a full hearing assessment.
5. Making a plan
Hearing aid and hearing device technology have both come a long way in the last few years. Hearing aids can now be explicitly programmed to certain hearing losses, allowing the wearer to feel included and settled in a world full of sound again. Hearing aids cannot completely restore your hearing, but they can significantly improve the way you interact and communicate. Other ways you can make living with a hearing loss as easy as possible are:
- Finding other devices and equipment that can help like ALDs.
- Developing other communication skills like lipreading and facial interpretation.
- Seeking help from an audiologist or audiometrist to answer your questions and to provide ongoing support for your new devices.
- Arranging counselling or emotional support from friends, family, therapists or support groups.
- Looking into the cost of hearing aids and devices and applying for financial support. 6. Accepting it and carrying on with normal life
Hopefully, you have received treatment for your hearing loss and are now learning to live with assistive devices or hearing aids. It may take a while to adjust to hearing aids but daily life goes on, and adapting to change is an essential part of life. Hearing aids can reconnect you with all the sounds you have been missing and can improve your social life by making it easier for you to get out and interact with others.
7. Checking in
It is essential to check in with your hearing healthcare provider to make sure your hearing is not deteriorating and to make sure your devices are still in top working order. A routine maintenance check-up is recommended yearly.
Living with untreated hearing loss can cause social isolation and depression, but hearing aid users report very high satisfaction rate with the improvement it has made in their lives.
Getting the right treatment and help is daunting but a great step towards being happier and able to hear the world around us again. Click here to book a free hearing test now.
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