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Most of us take our hearing for granted, but living without effective hearing can be a frightening and frustrating experience, leaving people feeling disconnected from the world around them. It can make it difficult to communicate fully with other people, and harder to play a full and active part in society, and to get the most out of life.
Hearing loss can come in many different forms. Some people are born with problems with their hearing and others begin to have hearing problems as they get older.
Whatever type of hearing loss you have there are devices and services to support you, to help make your environment better suited to your needs, and to help you to stay connected with the rest of the world.
If you are concerned about your hearing you should first of all consult your GP who will refer you on to a specialist if required.
There are various reasons why someone can experience a loss in their hearing. We look at some of the main causes of hearing loss here:
Conductive hearing loss
Conductive hearing loss occurs when something prevents sounds from being carried into the inner ear. This can be because the ear is blocked by a build up of wax or fluid, or because of an ear infection. Other causes include a perforated ear drum (where the ear drum is torn) or otosclerosis, a disease where the small bones in the ear grow abnormally and make it harder to carry sound. Conductive hearing loss can often be temporary and can be treated by removing what is preventing the sound being carried, for example by irrigating any wax, or by allowing the ear drum to heal.
Sensorineural hearing loss
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the nerves which carry information about the sounds we hear. This can be in the cochlea (a coiled tube containing nerves in the inner ear) or in the auditory nerve. Most genetic (inherited) hearing problems are sensorineural, as are hearing problems related to aging and loud noises.
Age-related hearing loss
Our hearing ability starts to decline from the age of about 30 to 40. By 80 years old, most of us will have a hearing impairment of some kind. Losing the sharpness of your hearing is a normal part of aging, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't get help to adapt to your body's changes.
Age-related hearing loss occurs when the tiny hair cells inside the cochlea gradually become less sensitive to sound. It's usually higher frequencies that become harder to detect, which might mean that the first thing you notice is that hearing women's and children's voices becomes more difficult.
Hearing aids are devices which amplify the sound coming into your ear, making it easier for you to hear. How well a hearing aid will work for you will depend on what the cause of your hearing loss is and how severe it is. You should discuss with your doctor whether a hearing aid will help you, and which type is best.
You can find more information about different types of hearing aids on the NHS website.
Age UK and UK Hearing Care have combined to produce a website which provides information on types of hearing aid, and where you can buy a hearing aid that suits you.
Action on Hearing Loss offer advice on hearing aid support.
The Hearing and Mobility website has a specialist area dedicated to hearing aids, including no-obligation hearing tests with the opportunity to buy a hearing aid afterwards.
Registration as deaf or hard of hearing
If you are registered as deaf, you may be able to claim certain benefits. For example, if you are registered with profound hearing loss you may be entitled to:
- Transport discounts such as a Freedom Pass or Disabled Person's Rail Card
- Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Attendance Allowance (if over 65)
- Discounts on public transport such as a disabled person's rail card
Your local council will assist you to register as deaf or hard of hearing - see below for details on how to arrange an assessment from your council.
For some people who are profoundly deaf and don't find hearing aids helpful, a cochlear implant may be a good option. A cochlear implant is a small device which is surgically implanted into the inner ear. It takes in sound and translates it into electronic signals which are sent to the areas of the brain which process sound. A cochlear implant will work in different ways for different people. For some people there is a huge improvement, while for others the improvement isn't as great. You should discuss your options with your doctor before you make your decision.
British Sign Language and other communication options
Many people with hearing impairment live full and rich lives and don't feel they need treatment to restore their hearing. Action on Hearing Loss provides information on British Sign Language and other ways to communicate.
You can search for registered BSL interpreters in your area on theNational Register of Communications Professionalswebsite.
There are also items of equipment which can help, and ways in which you can adapt your home so you don't have to rely on sound.
Equipment options include:
- minicoms (telephones that use text rather than speech)
- flashing light doorbells
- vibrating pager systems
- door chimes
- vibrating alarm clocks
- loop systems
The Disability Living Foundation's Living Made Easy website provides information on the types of equipment available.
DeafEquipment.co.uk are one of many online shops specialising in equipment for deaf and hard of hearing people
Action on Hearing Loss provide extensive information on the different types of equipment available for people with a hearing loss, and on how you can access them.
They also have an online shop where you can buy suitable equipment
Some people with hearing impairment may choose to have an assistance dog. The main charity that provides these in the UK is Hearing Dogs For The Deaf. The dogs are specially trained to respond to everyday household sounds and alert their owners.
Most local councils employ a specialist worker to work with people with significant hearing loss, and to help them to identify strategies and equipment which will allow them to live a more independent life.
They might also be able to:-
- put you in touch with local BSL and other interpreting and translation services
- put you in touch with local support groups
- put you in touch with local advocacy services who will assist you to say what you want, and help you to get the support you are entitled to
- provide you with printed information which will be easier for you to access
- advise you on employment issues
To contact your local council and request a specialist assessment in relation to your hearing loss:-
Kensington and Chelsea
Address: The Town Hall, Hornton Street, London W8 7NX
Tel (voice): 020 7361 2968
Minicom: 020 7937 7232
SMS: 07980 211335
Fax: 020 7361 2148
The Sensory Service have produced the following leaflets:
- Guide to Services For People Who Are Deaf Or Hard Of Hearing
- BSL Interpreter Service
- Drop-in advice and information service for deaf residents
Tel: 020 7641 1444 OR 020 7641 1175
Fax No: 020 7641 5426
The NHS website has a wealth of information on hearing loss.
The Royal National Institute for Deaf People, formerly known as Action on Hearing Loss, are a leading charity in the UK working with and on behalf of people with a hearing impairment.
The Royal Association for Deaf People (RAD) provide a wide range of advice and services for people who are deaf or heard of hearing.
Hearing Link is an organisation for people with hearing loss & their families.
The Business Link 4 The Deaf website offers a directory of businesses and other resources in London who employ deaf people and / or people who use sign language, or have taken steps to make their services more accessible to deaf people.
The British Deaf Sports Personality of the Year website provides links to many sports clubs and organisations for deaf people and people with hearing loss
UK Deaf Sport aims to encourage deaf people to participate, to enjoy and to excel at sport.
The British Tinnitus Association (BTA) provides support and advice about tinnitus.
Hearing Times provides up-to-date news and information for deaf and hard of hearing people, their relatives and friends, audiologists and professionals in the hearing industry.
Hidden Hearing are one of many companies who offer free, no-obligation hearing tests and a range of hearing aid technology, and have several branches in central London.
If you live in Westminster, are deaf, and are aged between 18-55 then Westminster Connect organise a weekly peer support group where you can meet people in a similar situation to you.
If you would like to receive independent advice on money and benefits, accessing care and support, legal issues, housing, your rights as a carer, and a range of other issues, then you can contact the WestminsterCAB
They provide a specific BSL advice service - from their home page click on the 'What we do' tab, and then on the 'What we do in BSL' link.