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  • David Price

I beg your pardon ? !

Often part of a joke or a funny story, hearing loss has been used as a backdrop for many comedy purposes, but the severity of living life as ‘an island’ is sometimes not so well publicised.

The complexity of hearing loss and deafness is vast and sometimes very mis-understood. Have you ever wondered, ‘if you’re so deaf, why are you agitated by my kid’s loud scream, but you can’t hear our conversation?’, ‘why if you can’t hear, can you still hear the dog bark from a mile off?’, ‘why is it, it seems we can hear all the sounds we don’t want to?’

The problem is far more sensitive than we think.

The patience to live with hearing loss or to be the person on the receiving end runs far deeper. The frustration felt by those affected is enormous, not to mention the frustration felt by partners, families and carers. Living with someone and being constantly mis-understood is tiring. Silence is sometimes therefore easier, but not necessarily better.

Frustration + frustration = Problems Amplified.

10 million people in the UK (about 1 in 6) are living with some degree of hearing impairment or deafness. Hearing loss often occurs with ageing, just another wearing out of our physical form.

There are three types of hearing loss categories; a) Conductive (involves outer or middle ear) when sounds cannot get through to the inner ear to be interpreted by the brain, b) Sensorineural (involves inner ear) when there is damage or a defect to the inner ear or hearing nerve, which could be congenital, disease or trauma c) Mixed (involves both a and b).  

Each form of hearing loss brings on different symptoms, although there can be commonalities in the range of sounds a person can hear.

For some people, hearing loss can be limited to high frequency sounds, which means that people fail to interpret any sound above 2,000 Hertz. This form of hearing loss makes it difficult to understand speech (especially higher frequency consonant sounds, especially the letters s, h and f) and speech will sound unclear and muttered.

On the other end of this, people can have low frequency hearing loss which will impact sound produced at less than 2,000 Hertz, like an airplane passing overhead, a thunderstorm, a running appliance or phone conversations. Low frequency hearing loss usually applies to genetic or congenital defects.

People with conductive hearing loss can hear most sounds if they are loud enough, but not at normal volume. This is when sound amplifiers, like hearing aids, are a good solution. This is also why shouting at someone with hearing aids, is not actually helpful to be better understood, but can make that person deafer. It is better to slow down a little bit and speak clearly.

Background noise is another huge life-changing challenge and suddenly a minimalist bar/restaurant is less appealing to anyone with hearing loss. The noise and clatter can be over-whelming and painfully loud as particular sounds are so amplified. Understanding that these ‘normal’ sociable environments can be full of distress for some one hard of hearing is a step closer to understanding the complexity of this.

Signs and symptoms of hearing loss

It's not always easy to tell if you're losing your hearing, common signs include:

  • difficulty hearing other people clearly, and misunderstanding what they say, especially in noisy places

  • Trouble hearing consonants

  • Constantly asking people to repeat themselves

  • listening to music loudly or turning the television up

  • having to concentrate hard to hear what other people are saying, which can be tiring or stressful

  • Avoidance of social situations that were once enjoyable

  • Sense of exhaustion after a day of listening to other people

  • Tinnitus or ringing and /or buzzing sounds in the ears

Common causes of hearing loss:

  • sudden hearing loss in 1 ear may be due to earwax, an ear infection, a perforated (burst) eardrum or Ménière'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

  • gradual hearing loss in 1 ear may be due to something inside the ear, such as fluid (glue ear), a bony growth (otosclerosis) or a build-up of skin cells (cholesteatoma)

  • gradual hearing loss in both ears is usually caused by ageing or exposure to loud noises over many years

These are some reasons for hearing loss – but make sure you see a GP to get a proper diagnosis. It might not always be possible to identify an obvious cause.

Treatments for hearing loss:

Hearing loss sometimes gets better on its own, or may be treated with medicine or a simple procedure. For example, earwax can be sucked out, or softened with eardrops.

But other types – such as gradual hearing loss, which often happens as you get older – may be permanent. In these cases, treatment can help make the most of the remaining hearing. This may involve using:

  • hearing aids – several different types are available on the NHS or privately

  • implants – devices that are attached to your skull or placed deep inside your ear, if hearing aids are not suitable

  • broadened ways of communicating – such as sign language or lip reading

Preventing hearing loss:

It's not always possible to prevent hearing loss, but there are some simple things you can do to reduce the risk of damaging your hearing.

These include:

  • not having your television, radio or music on too loud

  • using headphones that block out more outside noise, instead of turning up the volume

  • wearing ear protection (such as ear defenders) if you work in a noisy environment, such as a garage workshop or a building site; special vented earplugs that allow some noise in are also available for musicians

  • using ear protection at loud concerts and other events where there are high noise levels

  • not inserting objects into your ears – this includes fingers, cotton buds, cotton wool and tissues


Hearing loss has a compound effect on life, as you slowly zone out, you become less and less able to communicate with the outside world as you once did, which changes relationships and zest for life. Exploring the best aid for your specific hearing loss is fundamental, as well as looking into learning new skills like lip reading and sign language, which will give you more options as you age. We must stay tuned in and lively of mind.

Brett’s view

I have definitely noted that my hearing is no longer as acute as it once was.. which can be useful when dealing with extended family members. For the most part, it’s just another sign of getting older and excuse to shout at the kids!!!

David’s view

My father used to use cotton wool buds in his ears most day as part of his daily ablutions and later in life was hard of hearing. I can’t help but think that this daily habit massively contributed to his hearing loss. I try to avoid putting anything in my ear! The wax should come out naturally, otherwise see a doctor for a check.

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