Concerned about your hearing?

Do you feel that your hearing isn’t as good as it used to be?
 
Hearing loss is actually very common. It is estimated that more than 1 in 7 people have some degree of hearing loss – that’s over 9 million people in the UK alone.
 
Many people lose some of their hearing as they get older – this is a quite natural process. In fact, more than half of all people over 60 years of age have some degree of age-related hearing loss. This usually occurs gradually over many years – which is why it can often go undetected. In fact, you may be convinced that everyone around you is mumbling, or that the acoustics are particularly poor, rather than accept that you might have a hearing loss.
 
Other factors can also trigger hearing loss. These include exposure to loud noise (which can include loud music), certain infections (such as meningitis, mumps, or even the flu) and head injuries. Certain types of life saving medications can also cause hearing loss as a side-effect. These types of medicines are said to be ‘ototoxic’ (toxic to the ear) but are only prescribed when life is at risk.
 
While it is possible to cure certain types of hearing loss with surgery or medicine, this is only true for a minority of cases. Most hearing loss is not curable at the present time – so, once your hearing has been damaged, it cannot usually be recovered. This is why it’s extremely important to take steps to look after your hearing throughout your life, and especially not expose yourself to unnecessarily loud sound. For more information about noise-induced hearing loss, click here .
 
opens a new windowClick here if you’d like to know more about different types of hearing loss before reading on.   Otherwise, please continue reading...
 
 
Early signs of hearing loss
What to do next?
What will happen when I see my GP?
Will I need to wear a hearing aid?
Noise-induced hearing loss
 
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Early signs of hearing loss
It‘s not always easy to tell whether you have a hearing loss. Since hearing loss can develop gradually over time, it can go unnoticed for quite some years.
 
Below is a list of typical signs that your hearing may be deteriorating:
 
  • People appear to be whispering or mumbling.
  • Listening in noisy environments - such as in pubs,restaurants or shops where loud music is playing - becomes difficult.
  • Other people complain that you have the television or radio too loud.
  • You need to ask people to repeat things on a regular basis.
  • It is hard to keep up with conversation when talking in a group.
  • You might start to raise your voice.
 
If any of these signs apply to you, read on for advice on what to do next.
Many people become worried if they think they are losing their hearing but there are many things that can help. It is much better and more reassuring to have your hearing checked earlier rather than later.
 
If your hearing loss is very small you may not need a hearing aid at this stage, and some simple practical adjustments may be all you need at present. However, even if you do, here are two good reasons for taking action as early as possible.
 
  • Although the help they give varies from person to person, correctly set-up hearing aids may improve a person’s quality of life significantly. Hearing aids allow people to once again enjoy sounds they have been unable to hear for a long time. Hearing aid users can also find conversations in social environments a lot less exhausting.
  • If a person has hearing loss, their brain can become unaccustomed to receiving sound input. The longer that this state persists, the harder it will become to get used to hearing again, and the less effective hearing aids may be in the end.

Having your hearing tested is not unpleasant, and you will be under the care of qualified professionals at all times. Using properly fitted hearing aids (if you need them) will not be harmful to your hearing, and in fact can help in preserving as much useful hearing capability as possible.
 
Acknowledging that you might have a hearing loss and accepting that you may need to take action is an important step, but remember that there is plenty of help and support available.
 
 
 
If you are experiencing difficulty with your hearing, you may want to:
 
  • Talk to your family, friends and colleagues. Make them aware of any difficulties you are having, so that they can provide you with the help and support that you need.
  • Check your hearing using the free HearCompanion online hearing check. This check is completely anonymous and should only take a few minutes to complete. You can access this hearing check by clicking here. (this will open in a new browser window. You will still be logged in to the HearCompanion service)
  • If you’d prefer to check your hearing over the telephone you can call the RNID telephone hearing check on 0844 800 3838 (local rate call). This service is completely automated (you won’t have to speak to anyone), anonymous, and will give you a quick assessment of your hearing ability. More information about this check (this will open in a new browser window. You will still be logged in to the HearCompanion service)
  • Make an appointment to see your GP. Your GP will be able to decide whether onward NHS referral for your ears and hearing to be checked is necessary.
  • You might choose to go directly to a private hearing aid dispenser instead. Just as with the NHS route, hearing aid dispensers will assess your hearing before deciding if you would benefit from wearing hearing aids.
  • Contact the RNID information line on 0808 808 0123. for more information on hearing services in your area.

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Your GP (if you choose this route rather than going directly to a hearing aid dispenser), may ask you some basic questions about your hearing, such as:
 
  • When did you first become concerned about your hearing?
  • Is your hearing better in one ear than in the other?
  • Have you had any ear pain or any discharge coming from your ears?
  • Do you ever hear ringing, whistling or buzzing in your ears? If so, how frequently, and how long does it last?
 
Your GP may not necessarily ask you all these questions, but you may want to prepare yourself by considering what your answers might be.
 
Your GP may also want to know about any other cases of hearing loss in your family. If you’re not sure about this, it might be a good idea to ask around your family members before seeing your GP.
 
Your answers to these questions will help your GP decide the best course of action - and whether to refer you directly to Audiology or to an Ear, Nose and Throat department.
 
Your GP may also wish to look in your ears, using a torch-like instrument called an otoscope.
 
 
A typical otoscope
 
 
This enables a check to be made for excessive opens a new windowear wax. If there is a build up of wax, then it will need to be removed if you are to be referred to an ENT or audiology clinic.
 
There are a few other tests that your GP or GP surgery might possibly undertake at this stage. These include a basic hearing check using a simple metal implement known as a tuning fork. Although tuning fork tests do not give a precise measure of sensitivity to sounds, they can provide your GP with useful information about the hearing status of both your ears.
Although uncommon, a few GP surgeries can also carry out a full hearing test while you are there.
 
If your GP is going to refer you to an Audiology or ENT clinic, they should tell you how long you should have to wait before you get an appointment, and what to expect when you are seen. If they do not provide you with this information, please remember to ask before you leave.
 
 
 
 
If it turns out that you have a hearing loss, your audiologist will be able to tell you if you are likely to benefit from using hearing aids. Hearing aids do not provide a ‘cure’ for hearing loss, but they can offer great benefits to those who use them.
 
Hearing aids have undergone major technological and cosmetic changes in the last decade or so. Much like other modern devices - such as mobile phones - hearing aids now use advanced digital technology to ensure the best possible performance and therefore greater benefits for the wearer.
 
 
A modern digital hearing aid - now available through the NHS (Image © RNID)
 
 
In a small number of cases, there are surgical alternatives to hearing aids, such as implantable devices called Cochlear Implants. These devices are very specialised and are only suitable for a small number of people with very severe or profound hearing loss.
 
 
 
 
Noise-induced hearing loss is often preventable, so it’s important to look after your hearing by protecting it in noisy environments!
The sound may be prolonged (standing close to the speakers at a nightclub, for example) or short in duration (such as a gunshots or fireworks). Noise damages the opens a new windowsensory part of the ear. How much damage occurs to your ears when listening to loud sounds, depends on how loud the sound is as well as for how much time you are exposed. However, if being in a very noisy environment is unavoidable, you should always aim to protect your ears by using ear protection (such as a good pair of earplugs) and try to avoid standing too close to the source of sound.
 
Also, aim to give your ears a rest by taking regular breaks away from the noise, if you can.
However, the best way to avoid the risk of developing a noise-induced hearing loss is to avoid the sources of loud noise whenever possible.
 
Damage to the sensory part of ear through noise exposure can also cause tinnitus. Tinnitus is the word used for describing sounds heard from within the ear or the head. Tinnitus noises vary from person to person, but are often described as a ringing, buzzing or whistling sound.
 
The intensity of tinnitus also varies greatly between people. For some people it is heard only occasionally and at low intensity, but for others unfortunately it can be very obtrusive and have a significant impact on their life. Even short term exposure to loud sound can cause temporary tinnitus.
 
opens a new windowLearn more about tinnitus generally. (this will open in a new browser window. You will still be logged in to the HearCompanion service).

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