What is hearing loss?
At eargym, we are on a mission to make hearing care more accessible and to raise awareness about how hearing loss can impact our health and quality of life.
What are the symptoms of hearing loss?
Hearing loss is a unique experience and can affect people in many different ways, but if any of the following sound familiar you might be experiencing hearing loss:
You have difficulty understanding what people are saying
You need the TV or radio on a high volume
You have to concentrate on the conversation (more than usual)
You feel exhausted after engaging in conversations
You avoid noisy places with lots of people because it’s uncomfortable
Did you know?
Around 12 million people in the UK are affected by hearing loss. This makes it the second most common disability in Britain.
Can hearing loss be reversed?
Often, when people are diagnosed with hearing loss or start to experience hearing problems, they want to know whether their hearing loss can be reversed.
If hearing loss is caused by ear wax or an infection, then it is usually reversible. Ear wax build up can cause sounds to be muffled, but it’s possible to treat at home. You can buy ear wax softener at most pharmacies, or put a few drops of olive oil in your ear. Similarly, ear infections can cause mild hearing loss due to excess fluid. Some infections improve on their own, but we recommend always speaking to a professional to decide on your treatment.
If you experience sudden hearing loss - where you lose all of your hearing at once or over a few days - then you should seek professional help immediately.
Unfortunately, sensorineural hearing loss can’t be reversed, but lots of new developments, including hearing aids and hearing training, can help to improve your hearing.
Downloading the eargym app is a great first step in looking after your hearing and auditory well-being. Check and train your hearing and track your progress over time.
Causes of hearing loss
Hearing loss can happen to anyone, at any time. There are many different types of hearing loss and causes, from ear infections to prolonged exposure to loud sounds.
What are the types of hearing loss?
There are three types of hearing loss:
Sensorineural hearing loss
Conductive hearing loss
Mixed hearing loss
Sensorineural hearing loss
This type of hearing loss refers to damage to the structures of the inner ear or auditory nerve. This type of hearing loss accounts for 90% of hearing loss in adults.
How does it affect what you hear?
Clarity and loudness of sounds are both affected with sensorineural hearing loss. It is also common for the range of sounds you find comfortable to be reduced. So, while soft sounds are too faint, loud sounds can be too harsh.
The primary cause of sensorineural hearing loss is ageing, followed by exposure to loud noise. Other causes of this type of hearing loss include:
Infections - notably measles, meningitis and mumps
Head or acoustic trauma
Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent and irreversible as it's due to damaged hairs in the cochlea.
Conductive hearing loss
This type of hearing loss is most common in children. It occurs due to sound waves being unable to pass from the outer ear to the cochlea (in the inner ear) due to obstruction and blockage.
How does it affect what you hear?
With conductive hearing loss, your hearing will become muffled and even loud sounds are dulled. This type of hearing loss can be sudden or steadily get worse (until treatment).
Other symptoms of conductive hearing loss are:
The ear feeling full or ‘stuffy’
Ear ache and tenderness of the ear
Draining from the ear
Depending on the cause of conductive hearing loss, this type of hearing loss can be reversed and cured. In more severe cases, medications and surgery are advised.
Mixed hearing loss
Mixed hearing loss is a combination of the two types of hearing loss mentioned above. In this case, both the outer or middle ear are obstructed, alongside the inner ear or auditory nerve being damaged.
How does it affect what you hear?
Noises of all pitches and volumes are difficult to hear and understand, with sounds being muted.
If you have mixed hearing loss, audiologists tend to treat conductive hearing loss first. The main reason for this is so the symptoms of conductive hearing loss (such as fluid in the ear) don’t interfere with hearing aids, which are the primary treatment for sensorineural hearing loss.
Why does hearing loss occur? Is hearing loss hereditary?
The causes of hearing loss are varied, and dependent on the type of hearing loss experienced. However, ‘Is hearing loss hereditary?’ is a valid question, especially when it comes to the age of the person experiencing hearing loss. Hearing loss isn’t necessarily hereditary, but there are several hereditary conditions that can cause hearing loss.
Hereditary conditions that cause hearing loss include:
Otosclerosis (abnormal bone growth inside the ear)
Pendred syndrome (most common in children)
Congenital hearing loss (hearing loss present in babies and infants) is predominantly hereditary, with 50% - 60% of hearing loss in babies being caused by genetics. 80% of cases of prelingual deafness (deafness from birth or deafness in early childhood) is said to be genetic.
Why do I have hearing loss in one ear?
Experiencing unilateral deafness (hearing loss in one ear) can be very disorienting and stressful, but it is often only temporary and very treatable. Viral or bacterial infections are common causes of hearing loss in one ear. Physical damage due to trauma is also a common cause.
Do seek advice from a professional so they can rule out Meniere’s disease, acoustic neuroma and circulatory system disorders.
Hearing loss after a head injury
A head injury, or a trauma to the ear, can result in conductive hearing loss. This is reversible and will often disappear within a couple of months. Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) is also common after a head injury and can cause disruptions to hearing. If you are still experiencing hearing loss 3 months after a head injury investigative surgery may be done to determine whether the ossicle bones have been dislocated or whether there is damage to the auditory nerve.
Hearing loss from stress
Whether or not hearing loss from stress can be reversed depends on the severity of the stress. Just like diabetes or smoking, stress restricts circulation, which negatively impacts hearing. This is due to the sensory hairs in the cochlea being reliant on good circulation to perform their delicate functions of translating sound waves into electrical impulses. Chronic and severe stress can lead to permanent, irreversible hearing loss.
To prevent hearing loss from stress, take regular breaks from stressful activities, exercise daily, meditate, seek social support and smile as often as you can. Smiling moves the facial muscles, which can ease tension in the ear.
Hearing loss after swimming
If you’re a keen swimmer, you’ve probably experienced hearing loss after getting water in your ear. Hearing loss after swimming is known as ‘swimmer’s ear’. This type of hearing loss is due to water getting in the ear and blocking up the ear canal. It is temporary and can disappear once the water has been removed.
However, hearing loss after getting water in your ear can develop into a bacterial infection, especially if the water is unclean.
Aside from hearing loss, the symptoms for swimmer’s ear are:
Itchiness in the ear
Redness of the outer ear
Swelling of the glands in your neck
Swelling in the ear canal
Pain relief medications, antibiotics, corticosteroid ear drops, as well as keeping the ear dry are all treatments for swimmer’s ear.
Hearing loss co-morbidities
In recent years, studies have highlighted how hearing loss is linked to conditions such as, heart disease, diabetes and dementia. Hearing loss has also been associated with balance problems and falls. Specialists have found that even a mild degree of hearing loss can increase the risk of a fall by 30%. And, since the outbreak of COVID-19, more people are reporting hearing difficulties.
Hearing and Covid-19
If you’re experiencing hearing problems after Covid, you're not alone. Sensory symptoms, such as loss of taste, have been reported since the beginning of the outbreak, so it’s not surprising hearing is affected by the virus as well.
Hearing loss and balance issues have also been reported, but less is known about these side effects. It is suggested that much like the common cold and influenza, Covid-19 causes inflammation, which can result in congestion in the middle ear.
Though there is still much to be researched when it comes to hearing and Covid-19, researchers identify that hearing loss after Covid can range from mild to profound. The cause has been found to be the SARS-CoV-2 virus infecting the inner ear.
Alongside this, reports of tinnitus, ringing or buzzing noises in the ear, and vertigo have also been highly reported. These are all linked to the infection of the inner ear but lots more research is required to understand the relationship between long Covid-19 and hearing loss.
Can hearing loss cause dizziness?
Hearing loss does not directly cause dizziness. Rather, vertigo and dizziness – or a feeling of being off-balance – are common symptoms of inner ear damage or an infection.
Balance and hearing are related because the inner ear has two chambers; the cochlea (for hearing) and the vestibule (for balance). Both are suspended in fluid, so if the fluid moves or changes, this will cause dizziness.
There are conditions such as Meniere’s disease, a disorder of the inner ear, that can lead to both hearing loss and vertigo.
Hearing loss and vertigo
Just as hearing loss doesn’t cause vertigo and dizziness, vertigo doesn’t cause hearing loss. Hearing loss and vertigo are both symptoms of disorders or infections, such as Meniere’s disease.
If you experience both hearing loss and vertigo, an audiologist will be able to inspect your ear to see if there is any damage or sign of infection. Hearing aids don’t impact vertigo and shouldn’t cause any dizziness or feelings of unbalance.
Impacts of hearing loss
Hearing loss is not just about experiencing hearing problems. It can be isolating, distressing and debilitating. It can lead to lack of concentration, problems at work and even the breakdown of relationships. This is why we’re advocates for hearing well-being and accessible hearing care.
How hearing loss affects communication in children?
Hearing loss in children can affect their speech development and language skills. Not being able to hear certain sounds means the area of the brain responsible for communication may undergo delayed development.
How hearing loss affects communication in adults?
Hearing loss in adults usually results in people struggling to hear the high-frequency range of sounds, which include the consonant sounds of ‘s’, ‘th’, ‘f’, ‘k’ and ‘sh’. These sounds belong to the ‘Speech Banana Chart’.
The Speech Banana Chart, refers to a popular visual tool used by audiologists to describe and show where sounds in human speech occur on an audiogram. The chart is a great way to help people understand the sounds they can hear, and what their hearing thresholds are. A ‘Speech Banana’ is used on a graph to show patients where most sounds from average conversational speech fall. The area often resembles a banana - hence the name.
If hearing loss occurs within the frequency range of the ‘Speech Banana’ this could impact a child’s ability to learn language, and an adult’s understanding and comprehension of language. Missing these sounds can lead to misunderstanding, which can be very frustrating - for both the listener and the speaker.
This frustration can lead to an avoidance of social interaction and greatly impact self-esteem and confidence. Elderly adults who experience hearing loss are more vulnerable to social isolation, which is linked to the development of dementia.
How hearing loss affects speech?
For people experiencing hearing loss, the speech sounds ‘s’, ‘sh’, ‘f’, ‘t’ and ‘k’ are difficult to hear and distinguish. This will make comprehension difficult, and those with hearing loss may exclude these sounds from their speech.
People may not be able to hear themselves speak, so they speak very loudly or get muddled in their speech. In some cases, people with hearing loss will speak too quietly.
Speech development may be delayed in children with hearing problems, and they may experience difficulties at school. For example, their ability to learn the rules of speech sounds may impact their language skills such as reading.
How does hearing loss affect your life?
Hearing loss can affect people in three main areas of life:
Impaired communication might indirectly lead to fewer job or educational opportunities
Social withdrawal and isolation
Emotional problems, such as anxiety
How hearing loss affects daily life?
The everyday sounds many of us take for granted, such as birdsong, are missed when someone experiences hearing loss. This can make simple tasks much more difficult.
For example, if you can’t hear the kettle boiling, then making a cup of tea becomes ever so slightly more challenging, if not time-consuming.
Playing sports with friends or speaking with friends on the phone becomes harder. Not to mention, work environments can become harder to navigate with the demands of ongoing communications. The reason why certain sounds become harder to hear is due to the frequencies picked up by the hair cells in the inner ear. Overall, hearing loss can greatly affect someone’s sense of independence.
It is important that anyone experiencing hearing loss doesn’t feel limited. At eargym we want to make better hearing accessible to everyone - that’s why we designed our app.
Our app aims to empower people to take control of their hearing health by providing them with information and getting them to do fun and simple hearing exercises. Try eargym now.