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Hearing loss

Around 1 in 6 people in the UK are deaf or have some degree of hearing loss, according to Action on Hearing Loss.

When hearing is lost, it may affect a person's quality of life and relationships.

Hearing loss may progress as a person gets older, or in young people, may result from long-term exposure to loud music, including from headphones.

Causes of hearing loss

Hearing loss can be conductive (sounds don’t get through the ear) or sensorineural (damaged hearing), or a mixture of both.

One or both ears can be affected.

Hearing loss can be sudden, or gradually worsen over time.

Hearing loss causes include:

  • Ageing – more than 7 in 10 people over 70 have some hearing loss
  • Inherited genetic conditions, including otosclerosis
  • Ear injuries, including perforated eardrums
  • Ear infections
  • Ear conditions, including glue ear in children
  • Health conditions, including Ménière's disease
  • Blocked ear canals, earwax build-up
  • Exposure to loud noise over time, including at work and loud music through headphones or at concerts
  • Some medications, including some antibiotics, aspirin, loop diuretics, chemotherapy cancer treatment, malaria and erectile dysfunction medication.

Symptoms of hearing loss

If hearing loss is gradual, it can be many years before a person seeks help for the problem.

People talking to you may seem to be mumbling, phone conversations may be harder to hear, or understanding what's being said over background noise can be more difficult. You may find yourself reaching to the TV remote to turn up the volume more and more.

Higher pitched sounds can be affected first, including women's and children's voices, and the S and F sounds are harder to tell apart.

Hearing loss is often classed as mild, moderate, severe or profound.

  • Mild hearing loss means hearing is usually OK in a quiet room, but may be difficult with background noise.
  • Moderate hearing loss means there's often a need to ask people to repeat themselves.
  • Severe hearing loss means a hearing aid may be needed to follow conversations.
  • Profound hearing loss means only a person speaking loudly can be understood without the help of a hearing aid.

WebMD Medical Reference

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