What is hearing loss?

Hearing loss is a very common problem that typically affects people as they grow older but, in younger people, can also be the result of exposure to loud noise over a period of time, such as in industry. There are believed to be over 10 million people in the UK suffering from hearing loss to varying degrees.

Signs of hearing loss

It is not uncommon for someone who is suffering from hearing loss to be unaware of their condition, especially as it tends to worsen gradually over time. Instead, family or friends may notice the onset of hearing loss more easily.

Common signs of a loss of hearing include:

• difficulty hearing others in conversation, especially if there is background noise
• needing to ask others to repeat themselves or to speak more loudly or slowly
• turning up the television or radio to a level that others find uncomfortable

As a sufferer becomes more aware of their difficulty hearing, they may withdraw from social situations or conversations and become anxious at times when listening to others is important.

Types of deafness

While hearing loss describes any impairment with hearing, there are three broad types with different causes:

  • Sensorineural hearing loss: occurring naturally with age or as a result of trauma, this type of hearing loss is caused when the auditory nerve or the sensitive hair cells in the inner ear become damaged. Age-related hearing loss tends to begin after the age of 40 and worsens over time so, by the time people reach 80, most have some form of impairment. Exposure repeatedly to loud noise can also cause the hair cells to become damaged, while a variety of other health conditions can also cause a loss of hearing.
  • Conductive hearing loss: this temporary condition is often caused by a blockage within the ear, such as a build of wax or fluid, or a severe ear infection. Sounds cannot pass from the outer ear to the inner ear, causing a muffled effect that deadens sounds that otherwise would be crystal clear. A perforated eardrum, abnormal bone growth or even a foreign body becoming trapped in the ear canal can also cause the condition.
  • Mixed hearing loss: it is possible to suffer from sensorineural and conductive hearing loss, treatments for which will differ.

Risk factors for hearing loss

Hearing loss can be sudden or may develop over a period of time, depending on the type of impairment and the causes.

Common risk factors for hearing loss include:

  • Age: deterioration of the ear structure occurs gradually over time and affects most people in old age.
  • Heredity: you may be more prone to age-related hearing loss because of the genetic makeup of your family.
  • Medication: some drugs are known to potentially damage the inner ear, including Viagra, chemotherapy drugs and gentamicin. High doses of aspirin and other painkillers can also induce temporary hearing loss.
  • Illness or trauma: diseases such as mumps, measles and meningitis may cause damage to the structure of the inner ear, as well as serious health conditions such as stroke or head trauma.
  • Noise: exposure to excessively loud noise over a period of time, such as in factories, construction or agriculture, can damage the sensitive hair cells inside the ear. A sudden loud noise – an explosion, a firearm being discharged or a jet engine – can also cause permanent hearing loss.

When to seek help

If you or a member of your family experience sudden hearing loss in one or both ears, seek immediate medical advice from one of our leading consultants.

If you notice that your hearing, or that of a family member, is gradually deteriorating and is beginning to impact upon your quality of life, or you become aware of other unusual sensations such as a loss of balance or persistent noise in your ears (tinnitus), don’t hesitate to get in touch with the specialists at London Hearing who can carry out accurate diagnostic tests to determine the most effective hearing loss treatment to support you in your daily life.