Hard of Hearing or Deaf

There are approximately 155,000 people in Essex with a moderate or severe hearing impairment, and a further 3,500 who are profoundly deaf.

Most of us take our hearing for granted, but living without effective hearing can be a frightening and frustrating experience, leaving people feeling disconnected from the world around them. It can make it difficult to communicate fully with other people, and harder to play a full and active part in society.

Hearing loss can come in many different forms. Some people are born with problems with their hearing, and others begin to have hearing problems as they get older.

Whatever type of hearing loss you have, there are devices and services to support you, to help make your environment better suited to your needs, and to help you to stay connected with the rest of the world.

If you are concerned about your hearing you should consult your GP who will refer you on to a specialist if required.

Types of hearing loss

There are various reasons why someone can experience a loss in their hearing. We look at some of the main causes of hearing loss here:

Conductive hearing loss occurs when something prevents sounds from being carried into the inner ear. This can be because the ear is blocked by a build up of wax or fluid, or because of an ear infection. Other causes include a perforated ear drum (where the ear drum is torn) or otosclerosis, a disease where the small bones in the ear grow abnormally and make it harder to carry sound. Conductive hearing loss can often be temporary and can be treated by removing what is preventing the sound being carried, for example by irrigating any wax, or by allowing the ear drum to heal.

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the nerves which carry information about the sounds we hear. This can be in the cochlea (a coiled tube containing nerves in the inner ear), or in the auditory nerve. Most genetic (inherited) hearing problems are sensorineural, as are hearing problems related to aging and loud noises.

Our hearing ability starts to decline from the age of about 30 to 40. By 80 years old, most of us will have a hearing impairment of some kind. Losing the sharpness of your hearing is a normal part of aging, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get help to adapt to your body’s changes.

Age-related hearing loss occurs when the tiny hair cells inside the cochlea gradually become less sensitive to sound. It’s usually higher frequencies which become harder to detect. The first thing you might notice is that hearing women’s and children’s voices becomes more difficult.

Hearing aids are devices which amplify the sound coming into your ear, making it easier for you to hear. How well a hearing aid will work for you will depend on what the cause of your hearing loss is, and how severe it is. You should discuss with your doctor whether a hearing aid will help you, and which type is best.

You can find more information about different types of hearing aids on the NHS Choices website.

For some people who are profoundly deaf and don’t find hearing aids helpful, a cochlear implant may be a good option. A cochlear implant is a small device which is surgically implanted into the inner ear. It takes in sound and translates it into electronic signals which are sent to the areas of the brain which process sound.

A cochlear implant will work in different ways for different people. For some people there is a huge improvement, while for others the improvement isn’t as great. You should discuss your options with your doctor before you make your decision.

Most people who are hard of hearing rely on a combination of lipreading and hearing clear speech using hearing aids. People who are Deaf may also lipread and use hearing aids but may also use BSL, fingerspelling, deafblind fingerspelling, written text, etc. The method used usually depends on peoples experience and the nature and degree of their deafness.