It's estimated that around one-person-in-seven will have some kind of hearing loss during their lifetime so what is hearing loss and how can it be corrected? The sensitivity of our hearing is indicated by the quietest sound that we can detect, called the hearing threshold. Your threshold can be accurately measured by a hearing aid audiologist who will note on a graph the quietest sounds, at different frequencies, which you can hear. Normal hearing thresholds are not the same for all frequencies. If different frequencies of sound are played at the same volume (amplitude), some will be perceived as loud, and others quiet or even completely inaudible. Generally, if the volume or amplitude is increased, a sound is more likely to be heard.
All levels of the auditory system contribute to this sensitivity toward certain frequencies, from the outer ear's physical characteristics to the nerves that convey the nerve impulses of the auditory portion of the brain. A hearing loss exists when we have diminished sensitivity to the sounds normally heard by others. The severity of a hearing loss is categorised according to the increase in volume that must be made above the usual level before the listener can detect it. Another aspect to hearing involves the perceived clarity of a sound rather than its volume. That aspect is usually measured by tests of speech perception - the ability to understand speech, not to merely detect the sound.
Causes of hearing loss
Although accident, disease or exposure to toxic substances or excessive noise can all cause hearing loss, by far the most common factor is the passage of time. As with our eyesight, our hearing becomes less effective as we grow older and the older we are the greater the likelihood of us not being able to hear properly. This so called "age induced" hearing loss cannot be reversed and untreated can lead to other problems including ill health.
Research has shown that people with untreated hearing loss begin to opt out of conversations becaused they cannot hear what is being said, relationships can suffer, work can become difficult and eventually the person with hearing loss becomes socially isolated and can become depressed. Fortunately, whilst the lost hearing can never be restored, modern hearing instruments can dramatically improve quality of life not just for the wearer but for their families too. The only sure way to find out if your hearing is not up to scratch is to have a hearing test and if there is any doubt at all, see a hearing aid audiologist who is a BSHAA member.