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What does hearing loss sound like?

Hearing loss can be difficult to describe accurately and difficult for hearing people to imagine. You may know someone who has a hearing loss but not really appreciate what this means for them. They may find it equally difficult to explain what it's like. Two people with the same hearing loss may hear the same sounds slightly differently. If you've had a hearing loss for a number of years, you may not realise that some sounds don't sound "normal". They may sound how they sound to you and no one else. Furthermore, if you've never heard a sound before, how do you know it even exists?

When someone presents with a hearing loss there are a couple of things I, as an audiologist, want to know. Firstly, what the degree of the hearing loss is and secondly, where in the ear the hearing loss originates? There are different degrees of hearing loss ranging from mild to profound. A mild loss may go unnoticed and a profound loss may leave a person unable to communicate successfully at all. Hearing losses can also originate in different parts of the ear too. They can be conductive (outer or middle ear) or sensorineural (inner ear), or mixed ie, a hearing loss in multiple places.

So what does a hearing loss sound like? Well it is not just a case of hearing or not. And a hearing loss is not the same as just turning the volume down so all sounds are heard but at a quieter volume. It is more complex. Different sounds are made up of different frequencies and each frequency has it's own place within the cochlear, the organ of hearing. Hearing loses can involve all these frequencies or only some. They can present as normal in some frequencies and completely absent in others. This is why you may find that when you talk to someone with a hearing loss face-to-face in a quiet environment, they appear to hear you with no problem. Add a little background noise, or turn away from them when you are speaking and they may miss everything you are saying. It's not selective hearing, it's the complexity of the hearing organ and the access we therefore have to different speech sounds. To get an understanding of what it might be like, try the hearing loss simulator below.

It is important to have your hearing checked if you think you might have a hearing loss. It is always a good idea to know what our hearing levels are and what your options are should you need help with your hearing. This might be a hearing aid, hearing implant or even access to some lip-reading classes. It would be a shame to be missing out on a rich listening experience if you don't need to.

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