Last Updated on November 4, 2022 by Editorial Staff
By Farah Kiani, audiologist at Hidden Hearing
If looking after your hearing isn’t on your midlife health checklist yet, there are good reasons why it should be. Recent research suggests that 1 in 6 women in the UK may be living with undiagnosed hearing loss and women aged over 50 are least likely to recognise the symptoms and take action to get their hearing tested and treated.
The most common cause of hearing loss is age related and this can occur gradually, so it can be hard to piece together a pattern of symptoms that help track the decline. Often it’s friends and family who spot changes in your ability to hear before you do.
What are the early signs of hearing loss?
If you are experiencing one or more of the following symptoms over a prolonged period, you should think about getting your hearing tested.
- You find it difficult to follow group conversations, especially when there’s background noise – for example, in a noisy café or busy restaurant.
- You feel tired after social events as a result of straining to hear.
- People increasingly seem to be mumbling when they speak.
- You often have to ask people to repeat themselves.
- You find it difficult to pinpoint where sounds are coming from.
- You experience Tinnitus (a ringing noise in your ears).
- Phone conversations seem unclear.
- You (or others) notice that you are turning up the TV volume higher than normal.
Many may ignore the niggling signs of a hearing change for years before they seek help, concerned about the stigma associated with hearing loss and feeling old.
A change in hearing doesn’t mean you’re old, despite age being a common cause. Today, we’re seeing more cases of noise-induced hearing loss from exposure to loud sounds due to differing lifestyles, meaning there are more people in their 30s and 40s visiting hearing clinics. Changes in our hearing are as normal as changes in our eyesight; and getting a hearing test on the high street is as easy as walking in to an opticians for an eye test.
Despite this, recent research found that only 1 in 10 Brits planned to have a hearing test this year, compared to 1 in 3 planning an eye test; and as consumers we spend five times more on our eyes than we do on our ears, and twice as much on foot care!
Why is getting your hearing tested important?
Hearing loss is a major but avoidable health challenge that can have severe consequences on our health and quality of life if left untreated.
People living with undiagnosed hearing loss have been found to be more likely to feel socially isolated, to lack confidence and suffer from anxiety and depression. Untreated hearing loss has been identified as a significant risk factor in the development of dementia and can also prevent people from fulfilling their full potential at work.
In contrast, global research published this year found that people with treated hearing loss reported feeling younger and more empowered, having better relationships, increased self-esteem and a more active social life.
By taking action to preserve our hearing, we are investing much more broadly in our future health and wellbeing.
What are the causes of midlife hearing loss?
The two most common causes of midlife hearing loss are the natural ageing process and exposure to loud noises.
Age-related hearing loss (also known as presbycusis) is due to the tiny hair cells in your inner ear becoming damaged through gradual wear and tear. Most of us will lose some degree of our hearing as we get older. In the UK, 40% of over 50s have some degree of hearing loss, as do 70% of over 70s.
Noise-induced hearing loss happens due to exposure to loud noises for given periods of time. This exposure can damage your inner ear. Noises at (or above) 85 dB(A) – about as noisy as a food blender – can start causing permanent damage. The louder the noise and the longer the exposure, the higher the risk.
So, does this mean that making a breakfast smoothie is bad for our hearing health? Or that we should no longer listen to music on headphones or dance the night away at a concert? Of course not, but you can significantly reduce your risk of hearing loss by following these simple everyday guidelines:
What can we do now to protect our hearing?
- Follow the 60/60 rule – if you regularly listen to music on headphones, listen at no more than 60% of your device’s volume for a maximum of 60 minutes a day.
- Take regular breaks – when attending concerts or festivals where the sound levels are much higher than normal.
- Protect your ears – if you do have to be in a noisy environment, wear ear protection, no matter if you are at home, at work, or at a concert.
- Be mindful of your own hearing – hearing loss can happen very gradually, so the more keenly aware you are of the quality of your hearing health, the sooner you’ll notice any changes.
- Get your hearing tested – you don’t need to go through your GP or join a waiting list to book a hearing test. Free tests are available on the high street and also online.
What if I’m told I need to wear hearing aids?
Listen to the advice and look at your options. Hearing aid technology has advanced significantly over the years and there are many styles to choose from – they are no longer the big whistling bananas that they used to be! Designs are now incredibly discreet and the technology is cutting edge, with many models controllable from your mobile phone.
And if a main concern is about hearing aids making you look older, it can be helpful to try to look at things from a broader perspective. Constantly asking people to repeat themselves, getting exhausted by having to concentrate on what others are saying, and avoiding social situations because you can’t hear properly are all symptoms of untreated hearing loss that, combined, may make things feel a lot worse. Let’s change the narrative and challenge the stigma around hearing loss and ageing.
And take inspiration from the many women across the world who are sharing their stories in support of #LoveYourEars – a campaign that is aiming to change the conversation around midlife hearing loss and normalise the wearing of hearing aids. The campaign has even launched a new jewellery range that turns hearing aids into statement jewellery – so you can match your aids with your fashion, just like when people who need glasses choose a pair of designer specs to match their style.
You may also like: How To Embrace Aging Body Changes
Farah Kiani is an audiologist at Hidden Hearing, a high-street hearing specialist with a national network of over 300 test centres across the UK who also provide a free 5-minute online hearing test.