What causes hearing loss (and how to prevent it)?

Eleven million people in the UK – roughly one in six of us – have some form of hearing loss. 

Hearing loss occurs most commonly as we age, a condition known as presbycusis. It happens gradually so you may not notice at first. The signs to look out for include:

  • Difficulty understanding what people are saying, particularly when there is background noise.
  • Speech and other sounds appearing muffled.
  • Turning up the volume on the TV or radio.
  • Asking people to repeat themselves or speak more slowly.
  • Difficulty hearing certain vocal sounds, particularly consonants.
  • Losing confidence in social situations, particularly those involving conversation.
  • Loneliness and depression resulting from growing feelings of isolation.
  • Cognitive impairment and decline are often associated with hearing loss, particularly in older people. 

Types of hearing loss

The ear is made up of three main parts – the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear.  Hearing loss comes in three forms:

  1. Conductive – involving the middle or outer ear.
  2. Sensorineural – involving the inner ear.
  3. Mixed – involving a combination of the two. 

Causes of hearing loss

There are a number of different causes of hearing loss, including:

  • Inner ear damage – this can result from exposure to loud noises which causes damage to the hairs or nerve cells in the cochlea. These are responsible for sending sound signals to the brain. If they become damaged, the electrical signals aren’t transmitted as efficiently. Damage also occurs as a result of ageing. With this type of hearing loss, you may lose the ability to hear high pitched tones and you may struggle to follow a conversation when there is background noise.
  • Build-up of earwax – this can block the ear canal which means that the sound waves can’t get through. Removing the earwax can restore your hearing.
  • Infection, tumours or abnormal bone growth – if they occur in the outer or middle ear the result can be hearing loss.
  • Ruptured eardrum – this can be caused by sudden loud noises, changes in pressure, infection or poking your eardrum with an object. A ruptured eardrum can affect your hearing.

Prevention of hearing loss

It is important to be aware of the potential causes of hearing damage and the steps you can take to reduce your risks. 

Hearing loss is more common as we age, however you can take measures to minimise its impact. We recommend that you:

  • Protect your ears – limiting your exposure to noise is the best protection against long-term damage. In the workplace, use plastic earplugs or glycerine-filled earmuffs.
  • Be aware of recreational risks – loud music and certain leisure activities (such as live music gigs, using power tools, riding a snowmobile or using firearms) can all cause hearing loss. Limit your exposure to noise levels, wear ear protectors and take regular breaks from the noise. When listening to music using headphones, at home or in the car, turn down the volume.
  • Take care of your hearing – in the same way that you visit the dentist regularly for a check-up it is a good idea to have regular hearing tests. If some hearing loss is identified, you can take preventative steps to stop it from getting any worse. 

London Hearing is an independent hearing practice based in Harley Street. If you find you have any of the signs of hearing loss listed above, we can carry out a simple hearing test for you to assess the state of your hearing. In the first instance, you can use our free online hearing test to give you an initial idea.

If you’d like to find out more, please don’t hesitate to contact one of our audiology specialists on 0203 075 3190 or email us at [email protected].