Hearing impairment, or deafness, is when your hearing is affected by a condition or injury. Some people are born with a hearing loss while others may develop it as they get older.
Most commonly, hearing loss happens with age or is caused by loud noises.
One in six Australians is hearing impaired, Deaf or has an ear disorder.
Damage to your hearing is often a gradual process - the effects of noise exposure are permanent. What is excessive noise? When you must raise your voice to be able to speak to someone at an arm's length.
Some of the early warning signs are: you can hear but not understand; you find it hard to hear in noisy situations or groups of people; you think people mumble; you need turn the TV up louder than others or, you don't always hear the doorbell or the phone.
Real life experiences by Australians living with hearing loss
How hearing works
Sound waves enter your ear and cause your eardrum to vibrate. These vibrations are passed to the three small bones (ossicles) inside your middle ear.
The ossicles amplify the vibrations and pass them on to your inner ear where tiny hair cells inside the cochlea move in response to the vibrations and send a signal through the auditory nerve to the brain.
Types of hearing loss
There are three main types of hearing loss:
- conductive hearing loss – where sounds are unable to pass from your outer ear to your inner ear, often as the result of a blockage such as earwax, glue ear or a build-up of fluid due to an ear infection, a perforated ear drum or a disorder of the hearing bones
- sensorineural hearing loss – the sensitive hair cells either inside the cochlea or the auditory nerve are damaged, either naturally through ageing, or as a result of injury
- mixed hearing loss – it is possible to get both types of hearing loss at the same time
Levels of hearing loss
The level of hearing loss can be defined as mild, moderate, severe or profound. The level of hearing loss in an individual is determined by performing a hearing test to discover the quietest sound wthe person can hear.
Some ear problems may not necessarily cause hearing loss, such as tinnitus, which is the sensation of a ringing or buzzing sound in the ear.
How can I check if I have a hearing problem?
If you think that you or your child may have hearing problems, see your GP. They will check your ear for any problems, such as earwax or a perforated eardrum.
Your GP may refer you to an audiologist (hearing specialist) or an ENT surgeon for further tests.
Hearing tests are routinely carried out on newborn babies within the first few weeks to try and identify any hearing problems.