About Hearing Loss

1 in 5 adults in the UK have a hearing loss - that's about 12m!

1 in 5 adults in the UK have a hearing loss - that's about 12m!

Over 40% of people aged 50+ and over 70% of 70+ have a hearing loss

Over 40% of people aged 50+ and over 70% of 70+ have a hearing loss

Recognising and accepting hearing loss can take up to 10 years

Recognising and accepting hearing loss can take up to 10 years

How we hear

Ears are the organ of hearing and balance, but how exactly do they work and what happens to us when they don’t?

The Outer Ear

Consisting of the Pinna and External Auditory Canal, their role is to channel sound waves to the Eardrum.

The Middle Ear

Inside this air filled space, the three Ossicles, Malleus (Hammer), Incus (Anvil) and Stapes (Stirrup) receive, amplify and transmit the sound from the Eardrum to the Cochlea.

The Inner Ear

The Cochlea, a spiral-shaped, fluid-filled chamber, contains thousands of tiny hair like cells. These are responsible for picking up different sound frequencies and their vibrations trigger electrical signals in the Auditory Nerve. These are then sent to the brain where they are interpreted as different sounds.

However, unlike many organs of the human body, these hair cells are not able to regenerate. This explains why continuous exposure to sound, which breaks these cells and damages hearing, leads to permanent hearing loss. Higher frequencies go first because the hair cells suited to higher pitches are the first to encounter sound waves, so experience more stress and tend to deteriorate earlier. This is why high frequencies become harder to hear as you age.

How we hear illustration

Causes of hearing loss

In the UK, around 40% of the UK population over 50 have some form of hearing loss. It is most commonly caused by damage to the hair cells found in the cochlea and is often a gradual part of the natural ageing process. However, there are other causes including:

Exposure to loud and sustained noise such as a music concert or working in heavy industries can cause hearing loss

Loud noise

Exposure to loud and sustained noise such as a music concert or working in heavy industries

Sometimes there can be a hereditary reason for hearing loss due to genetic mutations

Genetics

Sometimes there can be a hereditary reason for hearing loss due to genetic mutations

A blockage, like earwax, can prevent sound waves from getting through to the inner ear

Blockage

A blockage, like earwax, can prevent sound waves from getting through to the inner ear

Injury, viral infections and ototoxic medication can all cause damage to your hearing

Illness

Injury, viral infections and ototoxic medication can all cause damage to your hearing

Types of hearing loss

Sensorineural hearing loss

This is the most common type of hearing loss and often occurs in both ears by damage to the hair cells within the cochlea or hearing nerve or both. The cochlea is the spiral-shaped part of the inner ear that transmits sound to the brain via the auditory nerve. This sort of hearing loss not only makes sounds quieter but also reduces quality – wearing a pair of correctly prescribed hearing aids can be beneficial for this type of hearing loss.

Conductive hearing loss

This is caused by damage to the outer ear, the ear canal or in the middle ear The result of this type of hearing loss is that sounds become quieter, although not usually distorted. Depending on its cause (one of the causes is a build up of ear wax) a conductive hearing loss can either be temporary or permanent. Surgery or medication can sometimes help.

Mixed hearing loss

This is a combination of the two. Again, surgery or medication can sometimes help with the conductive element of the hearing loss. More rarely, hearing loss can occur as a result of damage to the auditory part of the brain.

A visual representation of hearing loss

This is how those with no hearing loss perceive what is being said:

The thought of going out for the evening with his wife and friends was a little frightening

Whereas for those with a hearing loss this is what it “sounded" like:

The thought of going out for the evening with his wife and friends was a little frightening