What is hearing loss?

Hearing loss is when your ability to hear speech and other sounds is reduced. If you often have trouble hearing what people are saying or you find you’re asking for a lot of repeats, you may have some degree of hearing loss. Some other signs of hearing loss include needing the TV volume louder, having trouble understanding conversations in noisy places, having difficulties hearing on the phone, or feeling like sounds are muffled or uncomfortable.

What causes hearing loss?

While hearing loss is usually associated with getting older, there are various other causes of hearing loss that can affect people of any age. These include genetics, exposure to radiation or certain medications, recurrent middle-ear infections, or head injuries. Prolonged exposure to loud noise can also damage hearing, although this is largely preventable. Hearing loss can happen suddenly or gradually depending on the cause, and it can be temporary or permanent depending on which part of the hearing pathway is affected.

What are the effects of untreated hearing loss?

Verbal communication is negatively impacted by untreated hearing loss, which can lead to frustration, fatigue, social withdrawal, and an overall decrease in quality of life. Children who are born with an undiagnosed hearing loss can have difficulties learning and developing speech and language skills.

What can I do about my hearing difficulties?

There are different kinds of assistive listening devices available to help you hear better, depending on your listening needs. These devices are simply designed to amplify sounds that are hard to hear, such as a loudspeaker for your landline telephone, or a headset for your TV so you can listen at a volume that is comfortable for you.

Some people may find hearing aids more suitable for their everyday listening needs. These are small electronic instruments that fit on the ear(s) and deliver amplified sound. They are programmed by a hearing health professional to suit your particular degree and configuration of hearing loss.

Sometimes making sounds louder is not enough to restore useful hearing; this usually happens when the hearing loss is quite severe. A cochlear implant bypasses the parts of the inner ear that are not working and stimulates the hearing nerve directly. A surgical procedure is required to implant part of the device. More information on cochlear implants can be found on this page.

How much do hearing aids cost?

The cost of hearing aids varies substantially based on the level of technology you choose. Prices range from approximately $2000–10,000 for a pair. Check with the Department of Health's Hearing Services Program to see if you are eligible for subsidised hearing services.

Do I need one or two hearing aids?

Two hearing aids are generally recommended if you have a hearing loss in both ears. Using hearing aids in both ears has been found to lead to better communication in both noisy and quiet situations (Kobler, Rosenhall & Hansson, 2001), better sound quality (Kobler, Rosenhall & Hansson, 2001), less listening effort required (Noble & Gatehouse, 2006), and increased ability to tell where sounds are coming from (Boymans et al. 2009). Your audiologist will be able to make a personalised recommendation about whether one or two hearing aids would be best for your individual situation.

When should I see an audiologist?

Audiologists can provide aural rehabilitation and counselling, wax management, hearing protection, tinnitus rehabilitation, and vestibular rehabilitation (Audiology Australia, 2018). If you are consistently experiencing hearing or communication difficulties, hear ringing or other strange noises in your ears, have problems with wax, or have any concerns about your ears in general, it may be worthwhile visiting an audiologist. If you are unsure whether you need to see an audiologist, you should express your concerns to your GP, who may refer you to an audiologist or an ear, nose and throat surgeon (ENT).

What happens at an audiology appointment?

The audiologist will begin by asking some general questions about your hearing and medical history. They will perform a hearing test where you will wear some headphones or earphones and respond to a series of beeps. Some audiologists will do a speech test and ask you to repeat the words that you hear. They will go through your results with you and describe what you should do next if further action is required.

Strategies for communicating with a hearing loss

  • Let your friends and family know that you have a hearing loss to encourage them to speak clearly and avoid covering their mouth with their hand or speaking to you from another room
  • Ensure you can see the speaker’s face whilst they are talking
  • Reduce background noise as much as possible
  • Reduce the distance between you and the speaker
  • Encourage the speaker to gain your attention before they start talking
  • Encourage the speaker to use key words or phrases to provide direction and context to the conversation
  • Have a toolkit of repair strategies available if you miss some of the conversation such as repeating back what was heard, or asking for specific clarification about the part you missed