What to do about hearing loss

Noticing that your hearing is changing can be very disturbing. For most people, hearing changes very slowly and the early stages often go unnoticed. It is often the case that others begin to notice that a person is not hearing as well as they used to but sometimes feel uncomfortable mentioning it.

Whether you’ve noticed it yourself and family or friends are making comments about your hearing, it’s extremely important not to delay having your hearing checked. There is overwhelming evidence that it’s a big mistake to ignore the signs that hearing is changing and affecting your ability to communicate as you’ve always done before. 

Signs of hearing loss

Although the ways in which changes in hearing begin to show vary with individuals, there are a number of signs of earlier stage hearing loss which most people experience and these are the most usual: 

  • Not hearing clearly or misunderstanding what’s been said, often needing it to be repeated 
  • Following conversation in noisier surroundings becomes difficult and tiring 
  • TV and radio needing to be turned up to try and make speech easier to understand 
  • Difficulty understanding someone speaking from a distance such as from another room in the home or at a meeting 
  • Generally having to concentrate, more than before, on a person who’s speaking especially in groups or where there is troublesome background noise 

For most people, the problems are about not hearing clearly unless hearing changes have been ignored for a long time or, more rarely, hearing loss develops rapidly. 

Sudden or very rapid changes in hearing

Don’t delay if you experience a sudden or very rapid loss of hearing. It’s considered a medical emergency and you should seek urgent care at the Accident & Emergency department of your nearest hospital where you should be treated by an ENT doctor. Visit our page on sudden hearing loss.

What to do if you think you have a hearing loss

People react in different ways after noticing that their hearing is changing. For some, it leads them to researching information online while others have an understandably emotional reaction and may feel vulnerable, worried or angry.  

You’ll probably have a lot of questions such as where and when to go for reliable, professional advice. Some people wonder what’s causing their hearing loss, whether they’ll have to wear hearing aids and how it will affect their family, work and social life.

The good news is that there are lots of practical steps you can take to get a better understanding of what’s happening and what you can do so that you continue doing the things that are important to you. 

Too many people take far too long between first noticing hearing loss and acting on it. There’s so much evidence that the earlier you take action, the better will be the long term outcome. For example, if hearing aids are right for you, the earlier you start using them, the more easily and quickly you can adjust to them so that you stay connected and avoid the isolation that neglected hearing loss can bring.  

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Taking a hearing test

If you’re concerned about your hearing, a key step is having a hearing test: 

  • Online hearing screening

    Online hearing checks are certainly not a replacement for a full hearing test undertaken by a qualified professional. An online check can give you a quick but only general indication of whether hearing has changed and can be reassuring before arranging a hearing test with a professional. However, online screening tests might not pick up fluctuating hearing losses or different levels of hearing in each ear. So, the best advice is not to delay arranging for professional help. 
  • Professional hearing tests

    The best option is to arrange an appointment for a hearing assessment by a qualified audiology professional which includes comprehensive hearing tests. They can then decide whether hearing aids or other technologies would help as well as making other recommendations to help you live well with hearing loss. 

Lots of people wonder what they might need to help them hear well and, if hearing aids are needed, what they will look and feel like. As to what will work best for you will depend on what type of hearing loss you have and on your lifestyle needs.

Whether it’s hearing aids and/or other technology, it’s a very personal decision and that really needs the advice and support of an audiology professional. So, the first step is to book an appointment for a hearing assessment. 

Hearing aids – NHS or private?

You can start your journey towards better hearing through the NHS or privately. It’s a personal choice and there are advantages to both approaches. Whichever route you take, you should expect to be professionally assessed and, if you need hearing aids or other technology, you should be able to get whatever is going to work best for you.

However, it’s worth doing a little thinking beforehand, because there are some differences between NHS and private hearing care services, particularly as far as hearing aids are concerned. If you see a private audiologist and they suspect that you have a treatable medical condition, they will refer you to your GP anyway. 

  • NHS hearing care

    If you want your hearing tested through the NHS, the first step is to visit your GP. If your GP agrees that you might have hearing loss, they’ll refer you to see an NHS audiologist normally based at a hospital in your area. 

NHS hearing aids are free and, although there are hearing aids to suit different types of hearing loss, the choice is more limited. Your NHS audiologist will work with you to find what’s best for you from the choice available.

  • Private hearing care

    A private audiologist is normally able to spend more time with you and can offer more options, including access to a wider range of technology from different manufacturers and in different fitting styles. After your hearing assessment, they can explain the choices based on what’s best for you and what’s included in the overall cost of private hearing care. 

Most private audiologists provide free hearing tests, after which you’ll need to pay if you decide to carry on using their services. Generally, you’ll be seen more quickly if you choose a private service and many offer a home visit if that’s your preference.  

If you want to see a private audiologist, we recommend you choose a member of a professional body like the British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists (BSHAA)  or the Association of Independent Hearing Healthcare Practitioners (AIHHP) 

  • NHS hearing care by private practitioners

  • In some areas, a GP can refer you to a private audiologist for a NHS hearing care service. The only difference is that you would be seen in a private centre in the community rather than in a NHS hospital audiology department. In all other respects, the service will be very similar and involve no cost to you. 

Support from friends and family

Discussing questions and concerns about your hearing with friends and family is always a good idea. However, you need to be careful about other people’s advice or online research about hearing aids. Everyone experiences changes to their hearing differently and what’s worked for someone else may not be right for you.  

When you see an audiologist, they will advise you on what’s best for your own situation. A lot of people find it reassuring for someone they know to accompany them during
their first appointment with an audiologist. Even though you’ll be given some written information to take home, it can be difficult to remember everything if you’re on your own. 

Still uncertain and need reliable, independent advice?

If you aren’t sure about what the right next step is for you or have other unanswered questions, Hearing Link can help, simply contact our Helpdesk.

Webpage updated: May 2024

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