Mar 2020 2nd Edition

All you need to know about hearing loss

Written by Allison Cooper

When you struggle to hear, your ability to communicate effectively is compromised and it can become difficult to enjoy taking part in daily activities such as outings with friends, business meetings, talking on the phone or listening to the television at normal level.

According to the South African National Deaf Association, hearing loss exists when there is diminished sensitivity to the sounds normally heard.

Hearing impairments are categorised by:

  • their type, severity and the age of onset (before or after language is acquired), and can exist in only one ear or both ears.
  • can occur in the outer or middle ear (conductive hearing loss) or in the inner ear (sensory-neural hearing loss), or both (mixed hearing loss).
  • In the outer and middle ear, typical problems include too much earwax, infection of the auditory canal or infection of the eardrum, or otosclerosis, which is the abnormal growth of bone.
  • In the inner ear, the majority of hearing problems result from damaged inner ear structures caused by aging, excessive exposure to loud noise, injury, illness and certain medications.

Hearing loss can range in severity from mild to profound and can be temporary or permanent. 

A person with mild hearing loss is unable to hear soft sounds and has difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments; with moderate hearing loss, they are unable to hear soft and moderately loud sounds and have considerable difficulty understanding speech, particularly with background noise; with severe hearing loss, they are unable to hear most sounds; and with profound hearing loss, some very loud sounds are audible but communication without a hearing instrument is difficult.

Signs of hearing loss

In adults, hearing loss can develop gradually over several years. When this happens, most people are not aware of it until family or friends bring it to their attention.

Risk factors for hearing loss, that should be evaluated by an audiologist, include;

  • trouble understanding people;
  • dizziness or a balance problem;
  • ringing in the ears (tinnitus);
  • muffled or plugged ears;
  • ear or head trauma and a family history of hearing loss.

Signs of hearing loss in children:

  • not being startled by loud sounds;
  • can´t locate the source of sounds;
  • often touching or pulling on one or both ears;
  • stop babbling or make more high-pitched screaming sounds at six to eight months;
  • need louder sound levels to function;
  • often misunderstand spoken directions;
  • not responding when called;
  • withdrawing from social contact. 

This informations was supplied by the South African National Deaf Association (

If you suspect that you could be suffering from hearing loss, visit your nearest clinic or an audiologist.

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