The Blog

I Am One in Six

"It came as quite a shock to me to discover that 1 in 6 people (of all ages) in the UK have some hearing loss, and even more of a shock was to discover that I was one of them.

"It came as quite a shock to me to discover that 1 in 6 people (of all ages) in the UK have some hearing loss, and even more of a shock was to discover that I was one of them.

In 2012 I had a virus which knocked me for six for several weeks. However, whilst the rest of me recovered, my hearing didn't. Initially I thought it was the after effects of the virus and would wear off, but I was sent to my local hospital audiology department for tests and they confirmed it - my hearing was permanently damaged.

Shock really doesn't do the impact of such a diagnosis justice, it was a real body blow. So many questions run through your head, not least of which is 'Why me?". But I was struggling to cope with conversations and was becoming exhausted constantly straining to hear what people were saying in person and on the phone. Social situations were the worst, nothing like the chink of glasses or rattle of crockery and cutlery to completely drown out voices. I'm sure my friends and colleagues thought I'd gone senile I asked them to repeat themselves so often.

The next thing I had to deal with was the wearing of hearing aids. I'm sure we're all very sympathetic to people when we realise that someone is hard of hearing, but there's no getting away from that fact that most of us associate hearing loss with ageing. Unfortunately the knock on effect is that we then go into denial about having trouble hearing, in case we're thought of as 'old'. Well, I decided that I wasn't going to retreat into a quiet world of half understood tv programmes, no social life, and worst of all a world without my beloved theatre and music. So I embraced hearing aids in the vain hope that having long thick hair would cover them sufficiently to allow me to put them in and forget them. I treated them as I do my reading glasses - a necessary evil to get me through life.

To explain my diagnosis I have moderate 'Sensory Neural' hearing loss which is damage to the inner ear (or Cochlear) hair cells - apparently these hair cells are responsible for converting the sound coming into the ear into electrical pulses, which are then forwarded on to relevant part of the brain for it to interpret.

There are 2 types of hair cells, one is for clarity of sound and the other is volume - I have damage to both (some people get damage to one or both types of hair cells). It is usual for both ears to be affected, generally if someone has hearing loss in just one ear it would be important to get further medical exploration as this could indicate a growth/tumour.

There are 3 ear chambers, 'outer' where the sound enters up to the ear drum, 'middle' where pressure is equalised (ie in aeroplanes etc) and the 'inner' where sound is converted as I've explained.

There is no current treatment and it is not expected to get any worse/better as the damage from the virus is permanent. My hearing may degenerate in the future when my condition is combined with the normal old age process (not for very many years hopefully).

Having said that, there are research projects ongoing using genetic stem cell technology which is making progress towards re-growing the hair cells in the inner ear but nothing available at the moment. Hopefully by the time I reach old age, both causes will be repairable.

As I said at the start 1 in 6 people in the UK have some hearing deficiency, but they prefer to blame external issues such as bad tv sound quality etc rather than accept the stigma associated with hearing loss which suggests it's always age related. Therefore they resist getting hearing tests.

I can't emphasise enough how important it is for everyone to have regular hearing checks in the same way that they go for eye tests and dental check-ups. Technology is there to help and the quality of sound available in even the basic hearing aids are a big improvement on the past and can enormously enhance the quality of your life.

I fortunately now have Phonak hearing aids which are not only small, lightweight and discreet, there are also great associated gadgets (we all love a gadget!) which allow me to stream music and telephone calls direct to my hearing aids. Brilliant.

So if you're suffering in silence (literally) there really is absolutely no need, and if you really don't want to tell anyone - you don't have to."