Health, Wellbeing & medcine

Are you at risk of hearing loss?

Six years ago I was introduced to Emma whose hearing problem went undiagnosed until her 30s.

Ironically, while writing Emma’s story, I started to realise that my own hearing was not 100 per cent. Waking in the morning I would struggle to hear the radio if I was listening with my left ear. Only changing sides would bring clarity.

I had the opportunity to get my hearing checked by Hidden Hearing, and started wearing a hearing aid in my left ear.

For years I was evangelical about my little gizmo. But then – what happened? – I started leaving it off for swimming, yoga, hair appointments…. Then, finding it tickly, I saw no point in wearing it when I was working alone all day. It became an accessory for social occasions. I’d pop my earrings on, and my hearing aid in, reassuring myself that I wouldn’t miss out on the conversation at parties, meetings, or in busy restaurants. Then… I started forgetting to use it, and began accepting that I’d miss some of what was said.

But, speaking to an expert audiologist this week, I realise I could now be doing damage that goes beyond not being able to hear perfectly in my left ear.

The audiologist, who works for Hidden Hearing, explained the link between hearing loss and dementia – an issue that has been flagged up in the past few years. I already knew that the part of the brain that controls our memory – the temporal lobe – also controls our hearing. I thought this meant that deterioration in that part of the brain would naturally affect our hearing – but I didn’t think it was in our gift to control that deterioration.

Abut, according to this audiologist, by wearing a hearing aid and boosting our ability to hear, we also boost our memory. That is because, when we struggle to process sounds – as we do when we are not hearing fully – we put extra stress on our brain. When we hear clearly we are constantly firing off neurons and keeping our brain and memory active…

Hearing loss is something that usually creeps up on people. But you could hazard a guess that you are at risk if, in the past, you have done things that damage your ears. Listening to loud music, poking your ears with cotton buds, and a history of ear infections can all raise your risk. Flying – which causes pain in your ears – can also lead to permanent damage if you have a cold or blocked sinuses when you’re subjected to that pain. (That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fly, though… The good news is you just need to wear protective earplugs).

Could you already have a hearing problem and not know it?

Classic signs are:

  • turning the volume of your TV or radio up high.
  • asking people to repeat themselves
  • noticing that children and women’s voices sound softer – theirs are the higher pitches that are usually the first to be missed.

Hearing tests are free through private providers like Hidden Hearing – and to be honest they’re quite a lot of fun too.

You can also do a rudimentary check of your hearing using the online test at