Common ailments

Hearing loss

I’m 47 years old and I’m worried that I might already be losing my hearing. My family often joke about me going deaf because I have the television on too loud and never hear the phone ring. I also often find it difficult to keep up with group conversations because I have to concentrate so hard on what’s being said. Is it possible that I’m really losing my hearing so early?

Sadly, hearing loss is becoming increasingly common and currently affects around 1 in 6 people in the UK. The most common cause of hearing loss is age, with age-related hearing loss usually beginning around the age of 50. However, increasing numbers of young people are also losing their hearing and to a large extent this is down to playing music too loudly through personal music systems and being in pubs and clubs that play very loud music.

In age-related hearing loss, the loss of hearing is usually very gradual and occurs when the sensitive hairs in the cochlea (the spiral tube section of the inner ear) gradually become damaged or die. Hearing loss caused by age or exposure to loud noises are both types of sensorineural hearing loss. Unfortunately, this type of hearing loss is permanent and a hearing aid is often required to improve hearing in these cases.

I would recommend you visit your GP who will be able to talk to you about your symptoms and examine you to rule out other possible common causes, such as a blockage caused by a build-up of wax or excess fluid, or an ear infection. They may also carry out a hearing test or refer you to a specialist for assessment to try to establish what is causing your impaired hearing. If your hearing loss is found to be sensorineural then further tests may also be carried out to pinpoint where the problem lies and you will be advised of how best to manage your hearing impairment.

In the meantime, there are some things you can do to help yourself. For example using subtitles on the TV so other family members are not annoyed by the increased sound. In restaurants or pubs choose a table in a quiet area with good lighting and sit in a seat so you can see everyone's faces and see their lips and gestures. If you cannot hear you can appear rude if you don't respond to questions so tell people that your hearing isn't so good at the moment so they make allowances.

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