Living with Hearing Loss by Hidden Hearing

Put your hands over your ears or block them up with cotton wool and listen to the sounds around you. Difficult isn’t it? Imagine if that was how you lived your life every second of every day…

For some people this is a reality, because they have to live with a hearing impairment that affects far more than just their ability to hear the birds singing and the music on the radio, it often affects the conversations they have with their friends and family.

Around 9 million people in the UK suffer from hearing problems. Some may not be aware of the impairment, some might only know at certain times of the day or in specific situations, but others live with the condition 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Hearing problems can affect everyone and in all walks of life. It might be a genetic condition that causes the impairment or a condition which emerges later in life, due to exposure to excessive noise levels at work.

Living with hearing loss at any level can be difficult, and many people have to adapt their lifestyle accordingly.

Hayley McCulloch, a 48-year old paralegal from Chester, found her hearing problems had an affect on all areas of her life and she avoided going out for years.

“There’s this stigma with hearing aids,” she said. “It took my partner saying to me, ‘people wear glasses for eyesight problems, people use walking sticks for walking problems’, to make me get my hearing sorted out and look into getting an aid.”

Hearing aids were first developed back in 1898. They were worn externally, in an attempt to block out all other sounds from behind or to the side of the affected ear. These soon became available to people suffering with hearing problems through the NHS, but there were a number of problems with them. They seemed to be quite ‘clumpy’ and unsightly, and many users found that people would spend more time staring at the hearing aids than listening to the words coming out of their mouth. This prompted manufacturers to rethink the design and what the hearing aid could offer. By 1996, digital hearing aids had been developed and made available to the public from companies such as Hidden Hearing.

“I’d had two hearing aids from the NHS – analog and digital – and they were too big and too clumpy,” Hayley said. “I felt like people were staring at me and it wasn’t helping my hearing at all, so they ended up in a drawer.

But then Hayley got a new, modern hearing aid and her life was transformed. Not only do these aids fit discreetly into the ear, they also do what they say on the tin – help you hear.

“Since I got my new hearing aid, my hearing has really improved,” Hayley said. “I can join in conversations in the office and have a bit of banter, take notes in court hearings and I don’t even mind who sees my hearing aid,” she said.

Hearing impairments such as Hayley’s can cause serious problems for people in the workplace, especially when talking to clients and customers over the phone. Something, Steve McKenna, head of programme delivery at a major bank in London, was all too aware of.

“There were some voices on conference calls that just blended into one,” he said. “It was practically impossible for me to hold them.

“I lead big teams and a lot of big sessions and I was not prepared to have a hearing aid that was visible. The important thing to me was that I had something that made a difference to my hearing, but wasn’t something that would announce my hearing loss to the rest of the world. Going for that test made a massive difference to my life. Don’t fear it, just go for it.“

October was Hearing Awareness Month – now in its second year, which aims to get people to get their hearing tested. Hidden Hearing, one of the biggest names behind the campaign, offered 20,000 free screenings to encourage people to take time out of their day to visit their local branch to get tested.

Fifty-one-year old journalist and freelance writer Karen Evennett, from Kingston in London, took advantage of this offer and found that her left ear failed the test.

She said “I would listen to the radio in the morning and started to find that I couldn’t hear properly on one side. My family kept saying things like “You never listen, I’ve told you this” and this made me think that there might be a problem, so I decided to get the test.

“After I got the results I was referred to an audiologist in the town. As a journalist I knew that you could get some hearing aids that are completely invisible and I went for one that is incredibly discreet. It’s a bit like choosing a pair of glasses, all of a sudden the print jumps off the page and that’s the same subtle difference with my hearing, everything is much sharper.”

Struggling to hear conversations around the home is the reason 36-year old Adam Taylor was prompted to have a test.

The sales manager from Bristol said: “When my wife told me she was pregnant with our first child, ‘I thought I need to get my hearing sorted, what am I going to miss out on, if I don’t’. There’s one thing doing it for your wife, and then there’s your first child coming into the world – that’s a different kettle of fish.

“I knew with having spent time with children – nephews and nieces – that I’d struggle and it was a real kick to say, ‘right, am I going to go and sort this problem out to make a difference in my life’.”

Family members are often the first people to notice someone may have a hearing impairment. They may observe loved-ones turning up the volume on the television or radio, asking for conversations to be repeated.

They notice little changes in behaviour such as standing on one side of people all the time, because their hearing is better in one ear than the other, or the person no longer going out in social environments because they no longer feel comfortable sitting in a group because they can’t hear the person next to them talking.

There may not be one specific cure for the problem, with everyone suffering a different form of hearing loss or condition, but there are people on hand to help provide advice on how to manage and live with the issues without it affecting your daily life.