Audiologist Therese Goodwin describes how you might notice hearing loss and what you can do about it.

Imagine the scene. You’re meeting a friend in your local café. You’re enjoying her company, yet you notice you’re missing parts of the conversation and you wonder why your friend is mumbling! It’s becoming a strain to hear every word and instead of asking her to repeat, you nod your head, pretending to hear, trying to fill in the gaps. Not only are you feeling frustrated and a little embarrassed, but you’re also exhausted!

Does this sound familiar? Hearing loss affects 1 in 5 adults in the UK[1], however it often creeps up on us, slowly and insidiously.  Like all change, it’s something we’d rather not confront, preferring to blame external events for our difficulties: the noisy restaurant, friends and family not speaking clearly enough, etc. Although rare, if you have lost hearing suddenly in one or both ears, you should contact your GP immediately.

Signs of an issue

We all have some difficulty hearing from time to time, but how do you know if you have a hearing loss? Below is a list of red flags that may indicate a problem within your auditory system.

  • You have trouble following a conversation, particularly amongst background noise
  • You regularly ask others to repeat what they have said
  • You notice a sound in your ear(s) that does not come from an external source (tinnitus)
  • You don’t always hear environmental sounds such as bird song or leaves rustling
  • You have the TV or radio turned up louder than other household members
  • You have more difficulty hearing children and women’s voices
  • You have trouble hearing on the telephone (landline or mobile) even when the volume is at its maximum setting

What you can do

If you recognise more than one or two of these signs, it’s a good idea to get your hearing tested. You’ll need to make an appointment with your GPwho will examine your ears, check for any obvious explanations for your difficulties (such as a build-up of ear wax) and if suitable, refer you to your local Audiology Department. Here, you’ll have your hearing tested by an Audiologist, who will explain your results and if appropriate, prescribe hearing aids, which you can either obtain from the NHS or you may choose to see a private hearing aid dispenser. Not only can hearing aids make listening easier, they can also be very effective in minimising the sound of tinnitus that often accompany hearing loss.

Due to the Covid pandemic, it may take some time before you receive your appointment with the Audiologist. In the meantime, there are several helpful communication strategies to try. For example, let others know you have trouble hearing and kindly ask them to speak a little more slowly. Try to face the speaker, if possible and always have a small notebook and pen with you in the event you need important information written down. The use of subtitles on the TV can be enormously helpful and consider joining a lipreading class either in person or online.

Above all, if you suspect you have a hearing impairment, don’t delay. The sooner you seek help, the easier it will be to manage the problem which will undoubtedly make listening much, much easier!

[1] Reference: RNID prevalence estimates using Office for National Statistics population data (2018).

Photo by Mark Paton on Unsplash