How to check out suspected hearing loss
If you're worried you may have suffered some hearing loss, you shouldn't wait till your next routine doctor's visit.
Instead you can inform you GP, who may carry out some preliminary tests at the surgery, or may refer you for specialist investigation. A free hearing test is also available over the telephone from hearing charity the Royal National Institute for the Deaf. Call tel 0845 600 5555 to take the test.
What kinds of hearing loss are there?
Hearing loss can be conductive or sensorineural.
Sensorineural hearing loss, caused by changes in the inner ear, is a more common cause of hearing loss in older people. Many people find their hearing becomes less acute once they are past the age of 50, and the majority of over 70s has some degree of sensorineural hearing loss.
This loss happens as the cochlea in the inner ear becomes less effective at picking up sound, especially high-pitched ones, often causing difficulty following conversation in a noisy environment.
Sensorineural hearing loss is assessed by audiometry: you listen through earphones to sounds of different frequencies and volumes, and the equipment records how loud a sound must be at any given frequency for you to be able to hear it.
Conductive loss is likely to be in the outer or middle ear, and may well be treatable.
What treatment is there for hearing loss?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for sensorineural hearing loss. However, many people, especially those experiencing an age-related decline in their hearing - can benefit from using a hearing aid.
Hearing aids are battery-powered, designed to amplify sounds by means of a tiny microphone, amplifier and speaker. It is essential that they are properly fitted and adjusted to precisely match an individual's level of hearing loss. Even once this adjustment has been made, many people find they must persevere for some time before the notice any real improvement in their hearing.
Many different types of hearing aids are available on the NHS, including digital hearing aids. Ask your doctor for details of your nearest NHS Hearing Aid Centre or contact the RNID which has comprehensive information on all types of hearing aids.