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Hearing Loss

Understand Hearing Loss, Types of Hearing Loss, what is harmful for the Health of your ears and how you can improve your Hearing

Hearing Aid

Digital Hearing Aid Technology explained in simple terms. What’s available and the Best Hearing Aid for you.

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What is Hearing Loss ?

Hearing loss is defined as one of three types:

  • Conductive (involves outer or middle ear)
  • Sensorineural (involves inner ear)
  • Mixed (combination of the two)

Ageing and chronic exposure to loud noises both contribute to hearing loss. Other factors, such as excessive earwax, can temporarily reduce how well your ears conduct sounds.
You can’t reverse most types of hearing loss. However, you and your doctor or a hearing specialist can take steps to improve what you hear.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of hearing loss may include:

  • Muffling of speech and other sounds
  • Difficulty understanding words, especially against background noise or in a crowd
  • Trouble hearing consonants
  • Frequently asking others to speak more slowly, clearly and loudly
  • Needing to turn up the volume of the television or radio
  • Withdrawal from conversations
  • Avoidance of some social settings

When to see a Audiologist

If you have a sudden loss of hearing, particularly in one ear, seek immediate medical attention.
Talk to us if difficulty hearing is interfering with your daily life.
Age-related hearing loss occurs gradually, so you may not notice it at first.

How hearing loss can occur

Causes of hearing loss include:

  • Damage to the inner ear: Ageing and exposure to loud noise may cause wear and tear on the hairs or nerve cells in the cochlea that send sound signals to the brain. When these hairs or nerve cells are damaged or missing, electrical signals aren’t transmitted as efficiently, and hearing loss occurs.

Higher pitched tones may become muffled to you. It may become difficult for you to pick out words against background noise.

  • Gradual buildup of earwax: Earwax can block the ear canal and prevent conduction of sound waves. Earwax removal can help restore your hearing.
  • Ear infection and abnormal bone growths or tumors: In the outer or middle ear, any of these can cause hearing loss.
  • Ruptured eardrum (tympanic membrane perforation): Loud blasts of noise, sudden changes in pressure, poking your eardrum with an object and infection can cause your eardrum to rupture and affect your hearing.

Risk factors

Factors that may damage or lead to loss of the hairs and nerve cells in your inner ear include:

  • Degeneration of inner ear structures occurs over time.
  • Loud noise: Exposure to loud sounds can damage the cells of your inner ear. Damage can occur with long-term exposure to loud noises, or from a short blast of noise, such as from a gunshot.
  • Your genetic makeup may make you more susceptible to ear damage from sound or deterioration from aging.
  • Occupational noises: Jobs where loud noise is a regular part of the working environment, such as farming, construction or factory work, can lead to damage inside your ear.
  • Recreational noises: Exposure to explosive noises, such as from firearms and jet engines, can cause immediate, permanent hearing loss. Other recreational activities with dangerously high noise levels include snowmobiling, motorcycling, carpentry or listening to loud music.
  • Some medications: Drugs such as the antibiotic gentamicin, sildenafil (Viagra) and certain chemotherapy drugs, can damage the inner ear. Temporary effects on your hearing — ringing in the ear (tinnitus) or hearing loss — can occur if you take very high doses of aspirin, other pain relievers, antimalarial drugs or loop diuretics.
  • Some illnesses: Diseases or illnesses that result in high fever, such as meningitis, may damage the cochlea.

Complications

Hearing loss can have a significant effect on your quality of life. Older adults with hearing loss may report feelings of depression. Because hearing loss can make conversation difficult, some people experience feelings of isolation. Hearing loss is also associated with cognitive impairment and decline. The mechanism of interaction between hearing loss, cognitive impairment, depression and isolation is being actively studied. Initial research suggests that treating hearing loss can have a positive effect on cognitive performance, especially memory.

What is a hearing aid?

In spite of the great variety of types, designs and technical features, hearing aids can all be described as small, wearable electronic devices which enable a person to hear sounds better and understand speech more clearly, providing an overall improvement in communication ability.

How do hearing aids work?

Almost all types of hearing aids work/function in a similar way even though the outcome needs to be different for each person.

Firstly, sound is taken in through a miniature microphone where the sound is converted into an electronic, digital signal.

Secondly, the signal is processed, boosted and modified to meet the needs of the user’s hearing loss.

Finally, a receiver (miniature loudspeaker) sends the processed sound through the type of earfitting appropriate for your hearing aid system.

The audiology professional who tests your hearing will discuss whether and what type of hearing aids would help based not only on your hearing loss but also on your lifestyle needs. Importantly, if you have hearing loss in both ears as most people do, you should expect to use two hearing aids; one hearing aid is almost always inadequate.

What are digital hearing aids?

Whether you go through the NHS or choose a privately service, all new hearing aids are digital. This means that they are programmed to suit the needs of both your hearing loss and your lifestyle.

It takes time to get used to new hearing aids, and you will probably need to have your hearing professional fine-tune them once or more after you’ve had some experience with them. It’s quite normal for changes to be made after fitting as everyone is an individual and usually benefits from hearing aids being as personalised as possible.

All digital hearing aids have different settings for different environments, like in a group, one-to-one conversation, in a quiet room or in noisier places. Make sure that your audiologist explains all your options when they fit your hearing aids … always remember that they are your hearing aids, programmed to meet your individual needs.

What are the types of hearing aid?

There are lots of different types of hearing aid. The right kind for you will partly depend on your hearing loss, but there are other things to think about, too. For example, some people like to let others know about their hearing loss – or make a fashion statement – with a clearly visible aid. Others prefer a more discreet fitting that few will notice. It’s a personal choice but please make better hearing your priority.

  • A behind the ear (BTE) aid has two parts: the main part goes behind your ear. This is connected by a thin, clear tube to an earfitting that sits inside your ear canal. Some earfittings are made individually from ear impressions but many people now use small eartips not made individually but which fit very comfortably.
  • A receiver in the canal (RIC) aid is like a BTE aid but smaller. An almost invisible wire connects the hearing aid to a receiver (tiny loudspeaker) fitted within the earfitting sitting in your ear canal.
  • An in the ear/canal (ITE/ITC) aid sits completely within your outer ear (ITE) or just inside your ear canal (ITC).
  • A completely in the canal (CIC) or invisible in the canal (IIC) aid goes deeper into the ear canal, making it nearly or wholly invisible. This is the most discreet kind of hearing aid but such tiny hearing aids may have hearing limitations for you.

How do you control hearing aid settings?

Some hearing aids have controls you can use, some automatically vary their settings depending on the environment you are in and others can be adjusted using a hand-held remote control or through an app on your smartphone. Always ensure that your audiologist discusses your preferences and the options with you to help ensure that you make fully informed and shared decisions.

How do you choose the right hearing aid?

There are so many different hearing aid systems that you should be confident that there are hearing aids which are right for you. However, there are a lot of things to be considered, so building a good relationship with your audiologist is important. They’ll be able to recommend hearing aids that suit your hearing loss and lifestyle needs.

Not all providers can offer you every type of hearing aid. If you use a NHS service, you’ll usually be offered behind the ear aids. They’ll be loaned to you for free, but will still be the property of the NHS. If you see a private audiologist, you can choose from a bigger range of fitting styles, sizes and technical features.

Some providers may have arrangements with particular manufacturers, but it’s unusual for a private audiologist to provide only one company’s hearing aids. Most private providers offer a choice based on your personal needs and preferences

Adjusting to new hearing aids

It can take up to three months to get used to new hearing aids. What you experience will depend on your hearing loss, your lifestyle needs and how much you wear your hearing aids.

Your brain will begin to register sounds that it has not heard well for some time. So you might feel tired by listening or overwhelmed by new noises. But, as you carry on using your new hearing aids, your brain learns to recognise the new sounds and they become more acceptable. It’s important to keep going and, if you feel you need it, to ask for support from your audiologist as it’s part of their role to provide ths.

You should talk about what to expect with your audiologist when hearing aids for you are first discussed. They’ll be able give you advice on the best techniques for getting used to your hearing aids.

Looking after your hearing aids

It’s really important to keep your hearing aids clean, dry and free for wax so they continue to perform well. Our online shop offers a variety of handy hearing aid cleaning kit.