Hearing loss 


Hearing loss: Paul's story

Paul was diagnosed with progressive hearing loss at the age of 33. Despite this, he continues to be successful in his job and was awarded Council Worker of the Year in 2007.

Media last reviewed: 14/02/2013

Next review due: 14/02/2015

How hearing works

Sound waves enter your ear and cause your eardrum to vibrate. These vibrations are passed to the three small bones (ossicles) inside your middle ear.

The ossicles amplify the vibrations and pass them on to your inner ear where tiny hair cells inside the cochlea (the coiled, spiral tube inside the inner ear) move in response to the vibrations and send a signal through a nerve called the auditory nerve to the brain.

Hearing loss is a common problem that often develops with age or is caused by repeated exposure to loud noises.

Action on Hearing Loss estimates that more than 10 million (about 1 in 6) people in the UK have some degree of hearing impairment or deafness.

Hearing loss can occur suddenly, but usually develops gradually. General signs of hearing loss can include:

  • difficulty hearing other people clearly and misunderstanding what they say
  • asking people to repeat themselves
  • listening to music or watching television with the volume turned up high

Read more about the symptoms of hearing loss.

When to see your GP

See your GP if you are having problems with your hearing, or your child is showing signs of hearing difficulty. Particularly if you lose the hearing in one ear. If you lose your hearing suddenly you must see your GP as soon as possible.

Your GP can check for any problems and may refer you to an audiologist (hearing specialist) or an ENT surgeon for further tests.

You can also visit the Action for Hearing Loss website for an online hearing test.

Read more about diagnosing hearing loss.

Why it happens

Hearing loss is the result of sound signals not reaching the brain. There are two main types of hearing loss, depending on where the problem lies:

  • sensorineural hearing loss – caused by damage to the sensitive hair cells inside part of the inner ear called the cochlea or the auditory nerve; this occurs naturally with age or as a result of injury
  • conductive hearing loss – when sounds are unable to pass from your outer ear to your inner ear, often as the result of a blockage such as earwaxglue ear or a build-up of fluid due to an ear infection, a perforated ear drum or a disorder of the hearing bones

It's also possible to have both these types of hearing loss. This is known as mixed hearing loss.

Some people are born with hearing loss, but most cases develop as you get older. 

Read more about causes of hearing loss.

Preventing hearing loss

It isn't always possible to prevent hearing loss if you have an underlying condition that can cause you to lose your hearing.

However, there are several things you can do to reduce the risk of hearing loss from long-term exposure to loud noise. This includes not having music or the television on at a loud volume at home and using ear-protection at loud music events or in noisy work environments.

You should also see your GP if you have signs of an ear infection, such as flu-like symptoms, severe earache or hearing loss.

Read more about preventing hearing loss.

Treating hearing loss

The way hearing loss is treated depends on the cause and how severe it is.

In cases of sensorineural hearing loss, there are several options that may help to improve a person’s ability to hear and communicate. These include:

  • digital hearing aids, available through the NHS
  • middle ear implants – surgically implanted devices suitable for some people who are unable to use hearing aids
  • cochlear implants – small hearing devices that are surgically implanted inside the inner ear for people who find that hearing aids are not powerful enough
  • lip reading or sign language - such as British Sign Language (BSL)

Conductive hearing loss is sometimes temporary and can be treated with medication or minor surgery if necessary. However, more major surgery may be required to fix the ear drum or hearing bones. If conventional hearing aids do not work, there are also some implantable devices for this type of hearing loss, such as a Bone Anchored Hearing Aids (BAHAs).

Read more about treating hearing loss.

Page last reviewed: 10/06/2013

Next review due: 10/06/2015


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The 7 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Iame said on 31 January 2014

Well I know it says above you can get treated or help with sign language or lip reading, but when I lost my hearing suddenly because of illness in 2005 I never got any help at all. I saw and ENT who checked just to make sure I didn't have a tumour on my audio nerve and that was it I was left to suffer. I eventually asked my GP for more help because I can hear out of one ear but the other side is completely dead...he re-refered me to the ENT who eventually got Cros aides for me to try which did not help.

I went back to my ENT in the recent years because of balance and vertigo problems and he told me I had Menieres Disease. I also asked about trying a Bone Anchored Hearing Aid which I had fitted in December last year, which I'm waiting for it to heal properly then I can try the aid on it. Of course this will only help while my hearing in the good ear is okay and doesn't go. I'm worried and stressed because if it does go then I wont be able to communicate because I don't really know lip reading and no one has ever offered me sign language lessons via the NHS. Of course 'Charities' will teach me but they want thousands of pounds first which is hard when you rely on benefits to survive. I think B-Sign Langauge should be offered to people if they are deaf or suddenly go deaf..why is this not happening?

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dogbone said on 24 January 2014

I wonder if anyone is the same as I am? I am a war pensioner and my neurosensorial (?) hearing loss is due to working in engine spaces with no issue of hearing defenders as they worked on a loop system so you could hear broadcasts? And as I had a recurring ear infection none of the ships I served on would issue me with the hearing aids. I am now shown as still having a 5% hearing loss though this is a lot worse the spva will not allow an advance as they say my hearing will naturally get worse anyway. I dispute this! I had a hearing test in france recently and was diagnosed as being bad enough to warrant a hearing aid. But at a cost of around 2,500 euros per ear...... But has anyone got a similar problem and if so have you managed to get an increase in benefit because of it?

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MFQ786 said on 18 April 2013


I hope your son is doing well.

I suffered through child hood with what seemed to be the worst re-occuring ear infecton.

It turns out, it was much more than an ear infection.

I had what was called a Colestiotoma [Co-lest-teo-toh-ma] (Not sure on the spelling)

Some consider it a tumour like growth, although it is not in the UK.

This is a growth in the ear which sheds skin, skin cells die, and do not get out of the ear, they accumilate, infeciton occurs, skin rots, and basically it destroys the small bones in the ear.

I was in agony through my teens, it felt as if someone had scraped the side of my head with a pitch fork.

It turns out this growth had reached my skull, and the bones around it, it was eating up the bones, it took over 5 years of constant a and e appointments to discover it.

Please ask your doctor about this, I hope I've not scared you but the issue is not well known, hopefully it is not this.

In the ear, there is a tube which leeds through the cheek to the throat, these tubes may be a bit narrow causing liquid to not pass donw into the throat, ask about that. Also keep the ears well dry, do not even think about putting one of those cotton buds in it or blocking it with cotton wool, this will cause more bacterial or fungal growth.

I do hope your son grows up fit and healthy.

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tinatipppee said on 21 March 2013

My 6 year old son has had ear infections from about the age of 2, and they are continual. It seems to have affected his hearing, and even his teachers have told me to get the doctors to do a hearing test.
Have been to the doctor and all he said was 'well, we won't bother with that yet'.
Again today, the teacher called me in to force the gp to do something.
I'm going to insist he get referred, and I will be going private now. Fed up.
There is a family history of hearing problems, even I ate the age of 6 had completely lost my hearing.
But obviously its too much trouble to help a child!!!!!

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RonM2 said on 05 September 2012

Lip reading is also a good support to a hearing loss.

Unfortunately there are not many Lip reading classes available.

Could these lessons be made available online - via YouTube or ... ?

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ytuhamy said on 07 January 2010

The statistics infact DO add up:

"Approximately 28% of people who are hearing impaired are between 16-60 years of age, and 72% are over 60 years of age"

Notice how they mention that this is in the age group between 16 and 60. Therefore children are not counted in the statistics

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Lilian1312 said on 22 November 2009

The statistics in this article do not add up. It is stated that:

"Approximately 28% of people who are hearing impaired are between 16-60 years of age, and 72% are over 60 years of age"

but further on it gives the number of children with hearing impairments. Since the above percentages add up to 100% how do they fit in?

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