What is Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss or Deafness is the deterioration of the ability to perceive or comprehend sounds. The most common cause of hearing loss for the 9 million deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK is ageing, yet that does not automatically mean you will lose your hearing as you age. If you take proper precautions and limit the levels of noise your ears are exposed to your hearing can stay healthy.

Who is affected?

Hearing loss is not only caused by ageing as it can be affected by both environmental and biological matters, around 800 babies being born each year with significant deafness in the UK. In some cases hearing loss can occur unexpectedly, known as Sudden Deafness, usually a result of viral infection of the inner ear, and can be frightening to those affected. Because deaf and hard of hearing people are unable to distinguish certain sounds they can be at greater risk of accidents, which is why there is specialist equipment available as alternatives to necessities such as fire alarms and doorbells, that can make life easier and safer.

Different Levels of Deafness

There are different levels of deafness, each one having differing affects on how deaf and hard of hearing people communicate.

  1. People with mild deafness can have problems following speech, particularly in noisy situations;
  2. People with moderate deafness can have problems following speech without the use of a hearing aid;
  3. People with severe deafness mainly rely on lipreading, and may use sign language as their preferred language.
  4. People with profound deafness are likely to rely solely on sign language and may also use lipreading.

Some Truths about Hearing Loss

British Sign Language

As with spoken language there is no universal sign language for every country. However, some sign languages do have a similar structure. For instance, British Sign Language (BSL), officially recognised by the government in 2003, is the most commonly used means of signed communication in the UK.

Many people whose preferred language is BSL deem themselves part of the Deaf community, and may depict themselves as Deaf with a capital D to highlight their Deaf identity.

Hearing aids

Hearing aids can be an immense help to numerous deaf and hard of hearing people. However, they are unable to fix hearing that has already deteriorated.


Lipreading is another form of communication used by deaf and hard of hearing people. It requires great concentration and can be affected by factors such as a person not speaking clearly, or even having a beard or moustache.

In day to day lives many people don’t speak clearly, which can make lipreading difficult. Lipreading someone who has an unfamiliar accent can be complicated, which is why gestures such as finger spelling can be helpful.

Rather than helping a deaf or hard of hearing person to understand you, shouting is more likely to distort your words. Forming words accurately, speaking clearly, and talking at a normal volume is much more helpful.

Symptoms of hearing loss

In many cases, hearing loss develops over a period of time, and it can take years for people to recognise the symptoms. Set out below is a list of common symptoms. If you recognise any of these symptoms, and have not already done so, then it is recommended you visit your doctor as soon as possible.

  • In loud places such as bars you feel uncomfortable with the noise level and find it difficult keeping track of conversation.
  • Family and friends complain about the volume level at which you watch TV.
  • You have trouble hearing the doorbell and telephone.
  • You find yourself asking people to repeat themselves frequently.
  • You hear people speaking but you have difficulty understanding what they are saying.
  • You have a history of working with loud machinery or in noisy places.
  • You find yourself watching a persons lips moving while they talk in order to follow the conversation.
  • You often complain that others are mumbling.
  • You find it difficult to work out where sounds are coming from.
  • You are unable to hear soft sounds such as a clock ticking.
  • You often have a ringing in the ear, or suffer from ear pain and irritation.