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Hearing loss can be caused by a range of factors: exposure to loud noise, an infection or health condition, or it may simply be genetic. However, the majority of hearing loss is age-related. It also happens gradually which means you might not even notice at first. Secondary only to our sight, our ears are one of our most important sensory organs. So if your hearing is declining, it can have a huge impact on your mental health, your relationships and your day to day life.


The first signs of hearing loss

Hearing loss usually develops gradually, over a long period of time. Your brain can compensate for the things you aren’t hearing, so it can take a while to notice that you aren’t hearing as well as you used to. More often than not, your friends and family will notice before you do.

Here are some things that indicate you might have a hearing loss:
  • The TV’s volume is too loud for other members of your family
  • You find it difficult to keep up with conversations when there’s background noise
  • Chatting on the phone is tricky even when the room is quiet. You feel like people are mumbling a lot and have to ask them to repeat what they’ve said.
Even people who know they can’t hear as well as they used to tend to put off doing something about it. In fact, people wait for an average of ten years before deciding to seek help with their hearing loss and only 40% of people who could benefit from hearing aids actually have them.

What happens when you have a hearing loss?

For most people, higher frequencies are affected first. This means that sounds like f, s, p and t become more difficult to hear, making understanding speech much trickier. In almost all cases, hearing loss is permanent and it’s hard to predict how slowly or quickly it will develop.
Untreated hearing loss can start to have a huge impact on your day to day life. Social situations can become so tiring that you start to give up on them altogether. You may find you are tuning out of conversations or starting to withdraw completely, wich means missing out on precious time with family and friends. With this in mind, it's easy to see why some recent studies have shown a link between untreated hearing loss and the development of dementia.

Is there a cure for hearing loss?

Age-related is the most common type of hearing loss and there is currently no cure. However for most people, a hearing aid can help. You can read more about hearing aids here.

Why does age-related hearing loss happen?

Age-related hearing loss, which is technically called presbycusis, usually starts between the ages of 45 and 65. It can start earlier, or be made worse by things like regular exposure to loud noise. Age-related hearing loss usually affects both your ears. It’s caused by damage to the fine hair sensory receptor cells in your cochlea, which means that sound signals are less able to travel to your auditory nerve.

Is hearing loss genetic?

Some forms of hearing loss are genetic, and caused by mutations in the genes that affect the development and function of your ear. Of the 30,000 genes in your body, about 500 can influence your hearing.
Hearing loss research is now trying to find out which gene is responsible for which type of hearing loss – one day, this might lead to a cure.

How can I prevent hearing loss?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a tried-and-tested way to stop age-related hearing loss. But some things to be aware of are:
  • Avoiding exposure to loud noises and using hearing protection whenever you’re in a noisy environment. Read more about hearing protection here.
  • Not playing music through your headphones too loudly. It’s a good idea to avoid listening to music through headphones at more than 60% of the highest volume. Noise-cancelling headphones can help, as you won’t need to turn up your music louder to drown out background noise.
Get your hearing tested! A free 15-minute hearing check at Boots Hearingcare will make sure your ears are in tip-top condition. Click here or call us on 0845 270 1600 to book your appointment.

Do hearing aids help with all types of hearing loss?

It is only the least common forms of hearing loss that can't be helped with hearing aids. Let's take a look at the three main types:
  • Conductive hearing loss – caused by a blockage or inflammation in the outer or middle part of your ear, e.g an ear infection or too much wax. This type of hearing loss can usually be helped or cured by medication, syringing, or surgery.

An important tip: If you feel that your hearing may have deteriorated recently, don’t hesitate to book your free hearing test with a Boots audiologist.
  • Sound perception hearing loss – caused by a problem not in the ear, but in the brain. A person with sound perception hearing loss can hear sounds, but their brain can’t process them. This is the most rare form of hearing loss, and the most difficult to treat.
Sensorineural hearing loss – the most common form of hearing loss. This is caused by damaged sensory cells in your cochlea or in your auditory nerve. Age-related hearing loss falls into this category, and it can usually be helped with a hearing aid.
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