About hearing loss

  • Consequences
  • Signs
  • Causes
  • Myths
  • Self Evaluation

Consequences of hearing loss

point Untreated hearing loss may lead to numerous social and psychological problems. Some hearing-impaired people also experience physical problems because of their hearing loss.
point Reactions differ from person to person, but most hearing-impaired people suffer some social, psychological and physical problems as a result of their hearing
point Surveys indicate that hearing-impaired people benefit socially and psychologically and improve their quality of life when their hearing loss is treated with proper hearing instruments.

Signs of hearing loss


Because hearing loss in adults can develop gradually over several years, most people are not aware of the extent of their loss until family or friends bring it to their attention. Knowing the risk factors and recognizing the symptoms of hearing loss in yourself or someone you know is the first step to improving the situation. The following conditions are risk factors for hearing loss and should be evaluated by an audiologist.

point Trouble understanding people
point Dizziness or balance problem
point Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears
point Muffled or plugged ears
point Ear trauma or head trauma
point Certain ototoxic drugs
point Family history of hearing loss


point Does not startle at loud sounds.
point Can´t locate the source of sounds (e.g. by turning the head towards the person speaking). Children with normal hearing will usually try and locate a sound source by around the age of 5-6 months.
point Often touches or pulls one or both ears. This can indicate pressure or infection in the ear.
point Stops babbling or evolves more high-pitch screaming sounds at the age of around 6-8 months.
point Does not respond normally to sounds (e.g. does not respond to his or her own name by around the age of 6 months).
point Babbling does not evolve into recognisable speech sounds.
Needs louder sound levels in order to function (sitting too close to the TV, etc.).
point Often misunderstanding spoken directions, and not responding when called.

Withdrawing from social contact and perhaps acting a bit aggressively. (May indicate frustration over the constant misunderstandings resulting from hearing loss).

Causes of hearing loss

One of the major causes of hearing loss is ageing. We all lose our hearing sooner or later.

point Hearing loss is a natural consequence of getting older. Our hearing ability worsens from our 30s or 40s and onwards and when we reach our 80s, more than half of us suffer from significant hearing loss. Despite that, more than half of all hearing-impaired people are of working age.

Another common reason for hearing loss is exposure to noise.

point We live in a noisy world. Noise may come from our work or from voluntary exposure to noise, such as noisy motors or loud music at rock concerts, night clubs, discos and from stereos - with or without the use of headphones. Also the increasing use of portable MP3 players are causing hearing damages. The players are capable of delivering high sound levels and the user risks exposing their ears to highly excessive dB levels.

Hearing loss may also occur as a result of disease, infections or drugs. It may be inherited or be a result of physical damage to the ears or serious injuries to the head.
Hearing loss can either be conductive or sensorineural. Some people suffer from both, which is called mixed hearing loss.

Myths about hearing loss

point Hearing problems are rare.
Wrong.  Well over 10% of the population has a hearing loss.  Unfortunately, many people don't confront the challenge head-on. It's not a shame to wear a hearing aid.  It's a shame not to stay in touch with the people around you.
point Hearing disorders only affect the elderly.
Wrong.  More than half the people with reduced hearing are under the age of 65.   It can affect people of all ages.
point When people don't hear well, it probably means they're getting senile.  
Wrong.  Hearing losses have a variety of causes, but have nothing to do with senility.  However, a failure to seek help can lead to communication problems and social isolation.
point If you shout loud enough, people with a hearing loss will understand you better.
Wrong.  In fact, loud conversation may be painful.  Loudness will not make distorted sound any clearer, and may make the situation worse.
point  I can blast my jukebox; loud music doesn't bother me.
Most people with normal hearing are bothered by loud noise. Not being bothered by loud music may very well be an indication that hearing loss is taking place.
point Hearing aids correct hearing 100%.
Wrong.  While new hearing aids can compensate for many losses, they cannot restore normal hearing.  They can help you get the most listening enjoyment from the hearing you still have.

When someone is hearing impaired, that just means that sounds are not loud enough.
That's part of it.  Perhaps that person may have trouble hearing in crowds or in group conversations.  Perhaps they hear but don't always understand what's being said.  Words may seem to be mumbled or words just run together.  These are but a few of the symptoms.

point I've heard that my type of hearing loss can't be helped.
In most cases, nerve deafness can be helped through amplification.  Now there is hope for those who have been told they couldn't be helped.
point It's too expensive to get a really good hearing aid.
The very best hearing aids are well within the reach of most people.  Any way you look at it, a hearing aid could be the best investment you can make.
point Hearing aids will work for me in any situation.
While it's true that hearing aids help improve one's overall hearing, they may not work for every situation. That's when Assistive listening devices come in handy as a nice complement to hearing aids.

The following questions will help you determine if you need to have your hearing evaluated by a medical professional

point Do you have a problem hearing over the telephone?
point Do you have trouble following the conversation when two or more people are talking at the same time?
point Do people complain that you turn the TV volume up too high?
point Do you have to strain to understand conversation?
point Do you have trouble hearing in a noisy background?
point Do you find yourself asking people to repeat themselves?
point Do many people you talk to seem to mumble (or not speak clearly)?
point Do you misunderstand what others are saying and respond inappropriately?
point Do you have trouble understanding the speech of women and children?
point Do people get annoyed because you misunderstand what they say?

If you answered "yes" to three or more of these questions, you may want to see an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat specialist) or an audiologist for a hearing evaluation.


The material on this page is for general information only and is not intended for diagnostic or treatment purposes. A doctor or other health care professional must be consulted for diagnostic information and advice regarding treatment.

  Excerpt from NIH Publication No. 01-4913
Copyright 2011 South African Hearing Institute .