Around 40% of people over 50 in the UK have some form of hearing loss. Hearing loss is usually gradual and you may not notice any changes straight away.
Not only is hearing loss frustrating, it can even be dangerous if you are unable to hear warnings. There are many devices and options to help improve hearing.
- What is hearing loss?
- What causes hearing loss in older age?
- How can I be tested for hearing loss?
- How can a hearing aid help me?
- How can I get a free NHS hearing aid?
- Are there different types of hearing aid?
- How can assistive devices help my hearing?
- How can lip-reading help my hearing?
- Are there any benefits I can claim?
- What should I do next?
What is hearing loss?
Hearing loss is a reduced ability to hear. You may find you need the TV volume to be louder or that you can’t always hear people talking, especially in a crowd.
What causes hearing loss in older age?
Most people who experience hearing loss as they get older do so because of wear and tear to the tiny hair cells in the inner ear.
There are also other factors that can cause hearing loss, such as:
- regular exposure to loud noise
- a history of middle ear disease
- a family history of hearing loss.
Some people have a condition called tinnitus, which causes you to have persistent noises such as ringing or buzzing. This can also be linked to hearing loss.
How can I be tested for hearing loss?
If you've recently noticed problems with your hearing, the first step is to talk to your GP and explain how these problems are affecting your day to day life.
Your GP can carry out some basic tests to check for temporary, treatable ear problems, such as a build-up of ear wax or an ear infection. Your GP will have a look into your ears using a medical instrument with a light at one end.
If there is no obvious cause of hearing loss, your GP can refer you for a hearing assessment with an audiologist or an ear nose and throat (ENT) specialist. They will look into your ears and test your hearing to see how well you can detect different levels of sound. This assessment will help find the cause of your hearing loss and what treatments would work best.
Your hearing assessment will indicate if a hearing aid would help you and which type would work best for you.
How can a hearing aid help me?
Hearing aids work by making sounds louder and clearer. They will not restore your hearing to normal, or cure your hearing loss, but they can make life much easier.
They pick up sound and make it louder with an amplifier. They are fitted with devices, which can distinguish between foreground noise, such as conversation, and background noise, such as traffic.
How can I get a free NHS hearing aid?
You will need a GP referral for a hearing assessment with an NHS service. If your hearing assessment shows that a hearing aid will be helpful, then you are eligible for a free hearing aid. Most hearing aids prescribed through the NHS are digital and usually ‘behind the ear’ types.
NHS services are located in hospitals or health centres. In some areas of England, the NHS asks some private companies to carry out hearing tests and dispense hearing aids on its behalf.
Most people find NHS aids very helpful, but not all types of aids are available. It can be a good idea to try a free NHS aid and see if it suits you, before thinking about buying one.
Are there different types of hearing aid?
Hearing aids differ in shape, size and price. With modern technology, aids are getting smaller and more discreet – some aids fit entirely inside the ear. Smaller aids are also easy to insert in your ear, but they can be fiddly to adjust because of the very small controls.
Some aids have additional features to improve hearing. For example, some digital aids can clear unwanted background noise. Ask the hearing aid dispenser about any additional benefits or features of the aids available.
Your audiologist should advise which model should suit you. Ask if you can trial your hearing aid for a few weeks to make sure it’s comfortable and helpful. Make sure you can confidently put it on, take it off, change the volume level and change the batteries.
When you use a hearing aid for the first time, everyday sounds may seem quite loud. It could take you a couple of months to get used to hearing sounds with your hearing aid. If at any stage the sound is uncomfortable and you can’t wear the hearing aids, it is best to return to your audiologist for advice.
How can assistive devices help my hearing?
Special equipment can be installed in your home to amplify sound and help you hear better. These can be helpful if you don’t want to use a hearing aid. Examples include:
- a loop system connected to your TV or radio to make sound louder
- a telephone amplifier
- adjustments to alarms or doorbells to make them louder, flash or vibrate
You might be eligible for this equipment on free loan through your local social services department. Your eligibility will depend on your hearing loss and you will be assessed by sensory support staff.
Equipment can also be purchased privately. Some equipment will have a money-back guarantee so you can return it if it’s not helpful. You can buy a range of products from the Action on Hearing Loss online shop.
How can lip-reading help my hearing?
If you have hearing loss, lip-reading can be a very useful aid to hearing. Going to a local lip-reading class may improve your skills, and your confidence.
Lip-reading is a skill which most people use unconsciously to some degree. We usually focus on another person's face and lips if we are having difficulty hearing what they are saying (often because of intrusive background noise). We do this in an attempt to search for visual clues as to what the speaker is saying.
Are there any benefits I can claim?
Dr Chris Steele's experience of hearing loss
Dr Chris Steele talks about the importance of regular hearing checks.
What should I do next?
- Get a hearing check by Action on Hearing Loss online or by calling 0844 800 3838 (charged at a local rate). They can also give you advice, information and details about local support.
- Talk to your GP about a hearing assessment if your hearing loss is causing problems.