Did you know that hearing loss is the second most common disability in the UK? It affects one in six UK adults, but shockingly, people with hearing loss wait an average of 10 years to get their first set of hearing aids after being diagnosed. Others don’t get hearing aids at all. Of the 6.7 million adults who would benefit from help with their hearing loss, just 2 million use hearing aids.
It can be embarrassing when your hearing isn’t what it used to be. You might be worried about your loved ones thinking of you as old and you might not want to admit that about yourself either!
But hearing loss is common, and for many it’s a normal symptom of living a full and varied life.
To highlight the prevalence of hearing loss in the UK, the world-leading ENT Consultants at St John & St Elizabeth Hospital’s London ENT Unit have compiled a list of interesting facts and stats you might not know about this condition.
The definition of deafness versus hearing loss
Sound is measured in decibels and a person is classified as either having hearing loss or deafness depending on the level of sound they can hear.
If a person cannot hear a sound below 25 decibels in at least one ear during a hearing test, they are suffering from ‘hearing loss’.
Deafness is also classified as hearing loss, albeit more severe or ‘profound’. If a person is profoundly deaf, they cannot hear sounds lower than 95 decibels.
To put this into perspective, normal conversation is measured at around 40 to 60 decibels. Those with only mild hearing loss might still be able to follow conversations easily, but people with moderate, severe, or profound hearing loss might struggle and have to ask others to repeat themselves.
People with profound hearing loss might also not be able to hear noises like traffic, which can be particularly dangerous. Road traffic clocks in at around 70 decibels, well below the 95-decibel threshold of profound hearing loss.
How common is hearing loss in the UK?
Approximately 11 million people in the UK suffer from some form of hearing loss. It’s especially prevalent in those over 50, with over 40% of over-50s suffering hearing loss.
But adults aren’t the only people affected.
What about hearing loss in children?
There are 50,000 children with hearing loss in the UK. Approximately half are born with hearing loss, while the other half lose their hearing during childhood. The most common cause of hearing loss in children is an ear infection, which causes the ear to become inflamed and blocked with fluid. Whilst in most cases, an ear infection leads to only temporary hearing loss, if it happens frequently, it can damage the eardrum or nerve, causing permanent hearing loss.
The main causes of hearing loss in adults
The two most common causes for hearing loss are natural age progression and noise.
There is no single cause of age-related hearing loss. It happens because as we get older, the health of the tiny cells in our inner ear slowly degenerates. Since ear cells don’t regrow, once the damage is done, it’s permanent. However, both hearing aids and cochlear implants are popular and effective treatments for hearing loss, meaning you don’t have to miss out on the sounds you love.
The second common cause of hearing loss is more preventable.
Our inner ears are incredibly sensitive and aren’t designed to withstand exposure to extremely loud sounds. The majority of sounds are at safe levels and even high-decibel sounds, like the noise from a concert, can be safely heard for a short time. But prolonged or repeated exposure to noise, even from a lawnmower or power tools, can damage the ear cells or rupture the eardrum and lead to hearing loss developing much faster.
It’s for this reason that occupational hearing loss is a hazard in many industries, including entertainment, manufacturing, metalworking and construction.
How people with hearing loss communicate
According to the British Deaf Association, 151 thousand individuals in the UK use British Sign Language (BSL). Other popular methods of understanding speech are lipreading and using aids to amplify speech, such as a hearing device.
What happens if hearing loss goes untreated?
Sadly, hearing loss is progressive, which means that it will worsen over time. This can cause people to feel frustrated, angry and stressed at not being able to hear others. Those with severe hearing loss might also become withdrawn and avoid social situations, which can lead to loneliness and depression.
There is also a link between hearing loss and dementia. According to one study, people with mild hearing loss are twice as likely to develop dementia, or three times more likely if they have moderate hearing loss. Whilst we don’t know precisely why this is, it’s likely because hearing loss can make communication more difficult.
Although hearing loss is irreversible, fortunately it can be treated. The earlier you seek treatment, the sooner you can start to enjoy a better quality of life.
At the private ENT clinic at St John & St Elizabeth Hospital, our world-renowned Consultants offer the best treatment for conditions of the ear, nose and throat. If you’re suffering from hearing loss and want to understand your options, book an appointment with our team today by emailing [email protected] or calling 020 7078 341.