Health A to Z
Hearing loss can be temporary or permanent. It often comes on gradually as you get older, but it can sometimes happen suddenly.
See your GP if you notice any problems with your hearing so you can find out the cause and get advice on treatment.
This page covers:
It's not always easy to tell if you're losing your hearing.
Common signs include:
The signs can be slightly different if you only have hearing loss in one ear or if a young child has hearing loss.
Read more about the signs and symptoms of hearing loss.
Your GP can help if you think you're losing your hearing.
Your GP will ask about your symptoms and look inside your ears using a small handheld torch with a magnifying lens. They can also do some simple checks of your hearing.
If needed, they can refer you to a specialist for more hearing tests.
Hearing loss can have many different causes. For example:
This may give you an idea of the reason for hearing loss – but make sure you see a GP to get a proper diagnosis. It might not always be possible to identify an obvious cause.
Hearing loss sometimes gets better on its own, or may be treated with medicine or a simple procedure. For example, earwax can be sucked out, or softened with eardrops.
But other types – such as gradual hearing loss, which often happens as you get older – may be permanent. In these cases, treatment can help make the most of the remaining hearing. This may involve using:
Read more about treatments for hearing loss.
It's not always possible to prevent hearing loss, but there are some simple things you can do to reduce the risk of damaging your hearing.
Read more tips to protect your hearing.
Hearing loss is sometimes sudden, but more often it happens gradually and you may not notice it at first.
See your GP if you notice a problem with your hearing. They can help work out what might be causing it.
This page covers:
It can be hard to tell if you're losing your hearing. Other people may notice it before you do.
Early signs of hearing loss include:
These problems are often caused by hearing loss that can happen as you get older. This is permanent, but treatments such as hearing aids can help.
It's not always easy to tell if you've lost hearing in one ear, as you may still be able to hear with your other ear.
Signs of a hearing problem in one ear include:
Your child may have a problem with their hearing if they:
See your GP if you're worried about your child's hearing.
Hearing loss in children can be caused by a build-up of fluid in the ear (glue ear), which tends to get better over time and can be treated.
Babies have a hearing check in the first few weeks after birth, but speak to your health visitor or see your GP if you think they might have difficulty hearing.
They may have a problem with their hearing if they:
For more about what to look out for, see NHS Newborn Screening leaflets on:
The treatments for hearing loss depend on what's causing it.
Sometimes it gets better on its own or can be treated with medicine or a simple procedure. For example, earwax can be softened with eardrops or sucked out.
Other types of hearing loss – such as gradual hearing loss that can happen as you get older – may be permanent.
This page covers the main treatments for permanent hearing loss:
Hearing aids are small electronic devices worn in your ear that make sounds louder and clearer, although they won't give you back your full hearing.
There are many different types of hearing aid, including:
Speak to your GP if you think you need a hearing aid. They can refer you to a specialist who can advise you whether a hearing aid is suitable for you and which types may be best.
Modern hearing aids are available on the NHS, but these are mainly the behind the ear type. You can choose to pay privately for types not provided on the NHS.
Read more about hearing aids, including what the main types look like and how to get them on the NHS or privately.
For some people, hearing aids don't help and instead they need to have a special device fitted inside or to their skull during an operation. These are known as hearing implants.
Common types of implant include bone anchored hearing aids, cochlear implants, auditory brainstem implants and middle ear implants.
A bone anchored hearing aid (BAHA) may be an option if you have hearing loss caused by sound being unable to reach your inner ear.
This type of hearing aid is attached to your skull during a minor operation. It picks up sound and sends it to the inner ear by vibrating the bones near your ear.
It can be clipped on and off – for example, it's removed at night and when you swim or take a shower. Some newer types are held onto the head with magnets instead of a connector through the skin.
Action on Hearing Loss has a leaflet about BAHAs and similar hearing aids (PDF, 360kb).
A cochlear implant may be an option if you have severe, permanent hearing loss that isn't helped by hearing aids.
They work by turning sound into electrical signals and sending them to part of the inner ear called the cochlea. From here, the signals travel to the brain and are heard as sound.
The implant has two main parts:
Before having a cochlear implant, you'll have an assessment to find out if it will help. The implant will only work if the nerve that sends sound to the brain (auditory nerve) is working properly.
Action on Hearing Loss has more information about cochlear implants.
An auditory brainstem implant (ABI) may be an option if you have severe, permanent hearing loss and a problem with your auditory nerve.
An ABI works in a similar way to a cochlear implant, but the electrical sound signals are sent directly to the brain along wires, instead of the cochlea.
An ABI won't usually fully restore your hearing, but it can usually improve it to some degree.
Hearing Link has more information about auditory brainstem implants.
A middle ear implant (MEI) may be an option if you can't use a regular hearing aid – for example, because you're allergic to the materials they're made from or they don't fit in your ear correctly.
An MEI has two main parts:
Vibrating the hearing bones means that sound can travel into your inner ear and brain. This won't fully restore your hearing, but it can help make sounds louder and clearer.
Hearing Link has more information about middle ear implants.
If you've been deaf from birth or you develop severe hearing loss later in life, it can affect your ability to communicate with other people.
But you can learn different methods of communicating that can be used instead of, or as well as, spoken English.
Two of the main methods are:
For more information and help, see: