Hearing loss can occur at any age. You can be born with hearing impairment, or experience it as a normal part of the ageing process.  When it occurs, it doesn't just affect the person with the loss, it affects the whole family. Therefore, it is important that the family be able to recognise what is happening and take action to help the situation.

Hearing loss is one of the world's most common health problems. Some people are born with hearing impairment, while with others the hearing loss slowly occurs over time and the persons don't even notice they are experiencing a hearing loss. A head injury, ear infection or prolonged exposure to loud noise can also cause hearing problems. 

A hearing loss is not simply like listening to sounds with the volume turned down. Instead, you will probably notice that there are certain ranges of sound or tones that you have difficulty hearing. Normal speech is a combination of many different frequencies. Your hearing loss may effect your ability to hear some frequencies better than others. Sometimes it can seem as if people are mumbling and not speaking clearly. So, while a person may not hear that people are talking, others may not be able to understand what they hear.


For many people, hearing loss is a normal part of growing older. It is often such a gradual process that the affected person is the last to realise there is a problem.  Signs of hearing loss may be recognised in the following:

A)  Turning up the volume on Radio or Television
The person with hearing loss may increase the loudness on the radio or TV sets. The person usually does not realise it is uncomfortably loud for others. If others do complain, he/she just moves closer to the source of the sound to hear better. 

B)  The difficulty in hearing or listening to conversations in a crowd or noisy situations
Problems hearing in group situations like parties or restaurants is a classic indicator of a hearing loss.  Damaged ears frequently have trouble separating out desired sounds from unwanted ones. Normal ears can pick out conversations that are actually softer than the background noise, even when the noise is other conversations.

C)  Asking people to repeat
Persons with hearing loss can often get enough cues to understand the message if it is repeated, therefore they may ask people to repeat what has been said, continuously. They may think others are mumbling. Because people become aggravated at being asked to repeat, the hearing impaired may stop asking people to repeat and their ability to communicate is greatly impaired.

D)  Changing posture and facial expression when listening
Because persons with hearing loss have difficulty hearing, they often cup their hands behind their ears, frown, lean forward or turn their heads to hear the speaker better.

E)  Dependency on others
Persons with hearing loss may come to accept the fact that they have difficulty communicating and may rely on others, usually a spouse or a child, to assist them. They will then constantly turn to that person to tell them what was said.

F)  Withdrawal and Isolation
People with hearing loss may feel very isolated and lonely and this could affect their personalities. They may be scared to take part in conversations because of fear of mistaking what was said and responding inappropriately. Most persons with hearing loss have been embarrassed at some time for thinking a person said one thing when actually something else was said. Those kinds of mistakes can cause a person to loose confidence in themselves and social gatherings.


A)  Difficulty hearing soft speech (loss of sensitivity)

Most people think that hearing loss is simply a reduction in loudness - something that makes speech and other sounds difficult to hear at 'normal' loudness levels.  When someone loses their sensitivity to soft sounds, these sounds need to be amplified to make them loud enough to hear. Simply turning up the volume (on a TV) or speaking a bit louder may be enough to compensate for a mild loss of sensitivity.

B)  Difficulty hearing consonants (high-frequency loss)

People with high-frequency hearing loss usually have problems hearing and understanding soft, high-frequency (high pitch) consonants, such as t, sh, f , p, s, th.  When this happens, it become difficult to distinguish between words such as cap, cat, and catch. This can make it particularly hard to follow a conversation and can sometimes result in inappropriate answers to questions.

C)  Difficulty understanding speech in noise (focus loss)

Some people who seem to have no problems understanding speech in quieter and one-to-one situations suddenly experience much greater problems when background noise is present.  The noise may not even be as loud as the level of speech, but it can still 'mask' or cover the speech sounds you need to hear to understand.  A person with normal hearing can generally separate the speech from the background sounds. But for someone with a hearing loss, background music, other people talking in a restaurant or even the noise of a car can make it very difficult to distinguish speech from the other sounds.  Usually a person with hearing loss experiences all these problems to varying degrees. Depending on the nature and severity of the hearing loss, some people have difficulties in only certain situations, whereas others might have problems hearing and understanding almost all the time.  While it might appear that some people practice 'selective listening' (he/she hears what they want to hear) a mild or high frequency hearing loss might be the true culprit.


2002 - 2009 The Society of Hearing Aid Acousticians
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