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Understanding hearing loss

Our ability to hear helps define who we are and how we communicate. When everything works as it should, our sense of hearing has the power to inform, entertain and connect us with family and friends. However, when our sense of hearing begins to let us down, even simple conversations can become tiring. Following a discussion with a group of people requires intense effort, and communication can become difficult – all of which can quickly lead to isolation and frustration.

Signs of hearing loss

Hearing loss usually occurs gradually, so it is likely that you will not notice that your hearing has deteriorated.

You may notice some of the following signs:

  • When talking, other people sound as though they are mumbling.
  • You struggle to hear speech through the telephone.
  • You have to turn the TV volume louder than others would like.
  • You can hear people talking but cannot understand what they are saying.
  • It is difficult to hear conversations in noisy environments (background noise).
  • Family and friends notice your hearing loss and make mention of it.

Take the next step to better hearing

For more information on the different hearing loss difficulties you may encounter, you can download Claritas Hearing’s free hearing advice guide.

Get your free hearing advice guide >

How significant is your hearing loss?

Hearing losses are often described as mild, moderate, severe and profound. Whilst not entirely scientific, this simple approach to categorising hearing loss can be a helpful way to get a sense of your hearing problems.

Mild hearing loss

Mild hearing losses can be defined as being measurable with a hearing test, but either not noticed at all or only occasionally or just in specific situations. The person can hear without a hearing aid in most situations.

Moderate hearing loss

This is by far the most common group. A moderate hearing loss is again measurable with a hearing test and is noticed in most or many situations. The person can still hear without a hearing aid if they concentrate and the speaker is relatively clear, but the problem is noticed daily.

Severe hearing loss

Severe hearing losses are noticed in most situations. The person can only hear without a hearing aid if they concentrate, the speaker raises their voice, and there are no competing sound sources. Often, the hearing-impaired person can't hear everything even if the speaker is loud and very clear.

Profound hearing loss

With profound hearing loss, the sufferer cannot hear in any situation without a hearing system and even when wearing their hearing aids, they still miss sounds. These hearing difficulties often require Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs), such as flashing doorbells or type-talk phone services.

Types of hearing loss

There are more than 11 million people* in the UK with some form of hearing loss, or one in six of the population.

A professional hearing test is the only way to identify your type of hearing loss, but the information below will help you understand more about the three main types of hearing loss, and some of the factors that contribute to causing these hearing problems.

Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss and occurs when the tiny hair cells of the inner ear are damaged.

Even though sound gets into the inner ear normally, the damaged hair cells are unable to "sense" and provide the required signals to the brain. In most cases the ear's hair cells that can sense sound are damaged. As a result, these damaged hair cells send a distorted message to the brain, making it difficult for you to hear.

Common causes of sensorineural hearing loss include:

  • Age-related hearing loss – known as presbycusis.
  • Injury to the inner ear caused by loud noise (acoustic trauma).
  • Infections caused by viruses – these can include mumps, measles or rubella (German measles).
  • Abnormal pressure in the inner ear – known as Meniere’s disease.
  • The effects of certain antibiotics and aspirin and quinine, which can affect the hair cells.
  • Non-cancerous growths that affect the auditory nerve.

Unfortunately, there isn't a medical procedure that can "reverse" sensorineural hearing loss. However, the loss can be helped with amplification using hearing aids, enabling the remaining hair cells to respond with maximum efficiency.

Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is a breakdown in the bio-mechanical transmission of sound to the brain. This is usually the result of there being an issue with the outer and/or middle ear.

Causes of conductive hearing loss can include:

  • Middle ear infections.
  • Collection of fluid in the middle ear (known as "glue ear" in children).
  • Blockage of the outer ear by wax or debris.
  • Damage to the eardrum by infection or an injury.
  • Otosclerosis, a condition in which the tiny bones of the middle ear (the ossicles) which normally move to transmit sound become immobile.

Fortunately, many conductive hearing issues can be medically or surgically treated. If it is, it is likely that they will only require hearing aids for a short period of time while recovering. In some cases, hearing aids aren't even required. If the conductive loss of hearing can't be treated medically, hearing aids are often successfully used to help.

Mixed hearing loss occurs when both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss are present.

There are numerous factors that can impact your hearing, and the treatment you receive will depend on the specific factors responsible for impacting your hearing.

A Claritas Hearing audiologist can help to determine the best way to treat your mixed hearing loss on an individual basis.

Before you make an appointment, you can ease the discomfort of dry, itchy or blocked ears using a couple of drops of olive oil or special softening drops from a pharmacy. These drops help to soften the wax, but don't remove it. If wax builds-up, your ears may feel painful and you might experience some hearing loss. Olive oil is a great blocked ear solution – all you need is a couple of drops in the ear canal up to three times a day for a couple of days. Using olive oil or softening drops, before your appointment can also make the removal of ear wax easier too.
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