Your hearing matters

Of all the five senses, our hearing is perhaps the most precious. If we lose it, we lose contact with the people we love and the world around us. Learn more about hearing.

Overview

Why hearing is important

Consider all the sounds that surround you every single day: a child laughing, a bird singing, a friend chatting, or a great song on the radio - it is this symphony of sounds that makes life richer.

Hearing empowers us and helps us lead our everyday lives without limitations. It enables us to socialize, work and communicate. It also helps us to stay connected to the outside world and it keeps us safe by warning us of potential danger. A telephone ringing, a restless baby or the blare of a fire alarm is just a few examples of important signals that we need to be able to hear. 

Living with hearing loss

Hearing is an easy thing to take for granted. Occasionally we might miss a few words, but in general we move around effortlessly in everyday life, talking to one another, chatting over the phone or listening to the TV, without paying it a second thought.

Things are not nearly as easy with a hearing loss. When hearing loss occurs, a simple thing like following a conversation in a restaurant or hearing the doorbell or telephone can become a real issue. You may start to experience all sorts of emotions – from worry to sadness and loneliness. You may also feel tired and irritable from having to concentrate just to hear what people are saying. Left unattended, hearing loss can ultimately lead to feelings of isolation and depression.

Recognize the signs

Happily, things do not have to stay that way. Thanks to the latest technology, there are many products out there that can help you to overcome the difficulties of hearing loss. That’s why it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms as early as possible, so that a hearing loss doesn’t limit your social life.

What hearing loss sound like

We can't hear what other people hear, so it’s usually hard to explain how hearing loss changes our perception of sound. Listen to an example to get an idea of how hearing loss affects the ability to distinguish speech.

With hearing loss

Without hearing loss

Don’t be the last to know

Hearing loss can creep up so slowly that the person affected is often the last one to know. In fact, family members, friends or colleagues are likely to spot the problem before you do. They might say that you are not listening to them, or that the television is turned up far too loud. And they might wonder why you don’t answer the doorbell or telephone when they are trying to get a hold of you. The real problem is often not the condition itself – but that we do not recognize it and do something about it.

Test your hearing

How well do you understand speech in noise? Take the opportunity to test your hearing online, it only takes a couple of minutes.

Take the test

Signs and symptoms

Signs of hearing loss

Today, nearly one in two people over the age of 50 have difficulty understanding what people say in busy environments.  If any of the typical signs below seems to apply to you, you should contact a hearing care professional for a consultation. People get their teeth and eyes checked a regularly, so why not check your ears too? These are the typical signs and symptoms:

At work

Do you find yourself straining to keep up with conversations in a busy office surrounding?

At social occasions

Do you feel that people are mumbling and sometimes need to ask them to say things twice?

By the TV

Do you turn up the volume on the TV or radio louder than others in the room prefer?

On the telephone

Is it hard to hear the person on the other line and do you need to ask them to speak up?

At home

Do friends and relatives often complain that no one answers the door or their phone calls?

Outdoors

Do you have difficulty hearing sounds of nature, such as birds singing or rain falling?

The nature of hearing loss

How hearing loss works

As our hearing usually changes slowly over the years, a hearing loss can be quite difficult to recognize. While some sounds might still be easy to hear, other can become increasingly hard to make out. Knowing more about what to be aware of will help you monitor your own reactions: If you find yourself saying “What did you say?” or “Sorry, could you say that again?” you will know that it is time to take action.

The ear vs. the eye

As with the eye, the ear’s performance is affected by ageing. But that’s where the similarities end. When you look at an eye chart, the letters will gradually become harder to distinguish as they get smaller. When you experience hearing loss, certain syllables are typically harder to hear than others.

The softer, high pitched consonants such as ‘f’, ‘s’ or ‘t’ can be drowned out by the louder, low-pitched vowel sounds – such as ‘a’, ‘o’ and ‘u’. So if someone says “statue” and all you can hear is “s_a_ue”, you will be forced to try and guess the rest – by which time the conversation might have moved on.

Causes of hearing loss

Hearing loss is often associated with advancing age, but this is not always the case. Although it can strike people at any age, the condition most often appears after the age of 50.

The brief descriptions below will give you an idea of the different types of hearing loss and what causes them. For more information, please contact your local hearing clinic.

Age-related hearing loss

As we get older, some of us lose our ability to hear softer, high-pitched sounds. Birdsong, footsteps and leaves rustling in the wind is fairly easy to live without, but if you lose some of the building blocks of speech or the ability to hear important warning signals in your home, it is far more serious. Hearing loss may creep up slowly, but eventually it will affect your ability to live a rich and active life.

Noise-induced hearing loss

Noise-induced hearing loss is caused by overexposure to excessive sound levels. All over the world, people are encountering increasingly more sound. Even relatively low sound levels can actually damage your hearing if you are exposed to it on a daily basis. It threatens the hearing of many people in our society – from police officers, construction workers and farmers to teachers, dentists and restaurant workers.  Follow the link below to get some tips on how you can protect your hearing.

Useful tips

Types of hearing loss

A delicate system

The human ear is a precisely tuned system with a sensitivity and range that easily outperforms the most advanced hi-fi systems ever built. The ear consists of many delicate mechanisms, and a disruption in any of these can result in hearing loss.

In general, there are two main types of hearing loss – conductive and sensorineural. It is also possible to have a mixed hearing loss that is a combination of both.

Conductive hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss is the result of sounds not being able to get through to the inner ear. This is caused by problems in the outer (1) and middle ear (2).

The most common cause can be a build-up of wax in the ear canal, fluid in the middle ear, perforated eardrums, or damaged middle ear bones. The result of this type of hearing loss is that sounds become quieter, although not usually distorted. Conductive hearing losses can often be treated medically.

Sensorineural hearing loss

This type of hearing loss happens when the delicate sensory cells or nerve fibres in the inner ear (3) get damaged. This stops them from transmitting sound properly. The most common causes are the natural process of ageing or excessive exposure to noise.

This type of hearing loss not only changes our ability to hear quiet sounds, but it also reduces the quality of the sound that is being heard, making it especially difficult to understand speech. Once these hair cells are damaged, they will remain so permanently. Therefore sensorineural hearing loss cannot be cured – at least not at the present time.

Ways to better hearing

Don’t let hearing loss hold you back

Recent studies show that hearing loss is becoming more common in modern society. In fact, one in two adults over the age of 50 experience some kind of hearing loss. Living with a hearing loss these days is however nothing like it used to be.

Thanks to modern technology, there are many products out there that can help you to overcome the difficulties of hearing loss. While some will help you to hear more clearly, others will help to keep you safe and connected to the outside world.

In this section you can learn more about what’s available.

Hearing aids

A hearing aid or cochlear implant is a fantastic invention for people with hearing loss. The modern hearing aids of today are nothing like the old beige bananas; they are small, sleek and effective. Although a hearing aid can never totally restore your hearing, it can usually restore your ability to communicate, which will improve the quality of life not only for you but also for the rest of the family.

A hearing aid needs to be fitted by a professional and usually takes some time to adjust to. The first step is to a visit your local hearing care professional for a hearing test.

Personal amplifiers

A personal amplifier can be used as a complement or as an alternative to a hearing aid. A personal amplifier is less expensive, works out-of-the-box, and is often easier to handle for people with low vision or limited dexterity.

A personal amplifier looks approximately like a TV-remote and can be used for instance with regular headphones. Place it on the table in front of you or point it to the person talking to hear the conversation around you.

Listening systems

Even with a modern hearing aid, there are still some situations where a hearing aid just isn’t effective enough. Like for instance when you are out dining on a noisy restaurant or participating on a crowded meeting or seminar. In these situations, a wireless listening system is a good complement to a hearing aid. It reduces the distance to the person talking and clarifies speech even further before it reaches your hearing aid.

A listening system consists of a receiver that captures speech close to you, and a transmitter that picks up speech from further away.

TV listeners

A TV listener enables you to hear the television, radio or stereo more clearly without making it too loud for other people in the room. You can choose models with neckloop if you wear a hearing aid or stethoset versions if you don’t.

Most TV listeners are cordless so you can walk around the room without having to take them off. A personal amplifier or a wireless listening system can also be used as a TV listener.

Notification systems

A notification system will alert you to signals in your home, like for instance when the doorbell or telephone rings, when your baby needs you or if the smoke alarm is activated. It notifies you with a combination of sound, vibrations and flashing lights and works even if you are several rooms away from the signal.

The alerting system consists of a number of transmitters that are wirelessly connected to a receiver. The receiver can be placed on a table, worn on the belt, or even around the wrist like a normal wrist watch.

Amplified alarm clocks

An amplified alarm clock with extra loud sounding alarm and a bed shaker that vibrates under the pillow or mattress is specially designed to wake up and alert people with hearing loss, or those who are just deep sleepers.

Some alarm clocks are even connected to a wireless notification system so that for instance, if a fire starts during your sleep, the alarm clock will immediately awake you. An inexpensive insurance that will provide both you and your family with a good night’s sleep.

Amplified telephones

An amplified telephone or mobile phone can help you to hear and communicate more clearly on the phone. Amplified phones make the sound louder, so that it is easier to hear the other person speaking. Some models also make your voice louder for the person on the other end of the line.

There are both chorded and cordless models as well as mobile phones available. If you prefer your old telephone you can connect an external telephone amplifier to increase the volume.

Talk to an expert

Many of the products above are available through hearing specialist channels. You may also be able to claim some of the products from your local council if you have, or care for someone, with hearing loss. It will depend on the severity of the loss and how much it affects daily life.

Contact your local healthcare provider or hearing care unit who will help you assess your situation and advice you on a solution that's right for you.

Find a specialist

Resources

Take the opportunity to test your hearing online, it only takes a couple of minutes.

Take the test

Get a general idea of how hearing loss can affect our ability to distinguish speech.

Hear examples

The rock revolution forced musician Rune to turn up the volume. This had effects later in life.

Read Rune's story