More than half of people aged 60 and over are affected by hearing loss, and nearly 10 million people of all ages across the UK are deaf or have hearing difficulties.
According to a new report by charity Action on Hearing Loss, this number is expected to increase, with an announcement that 41% of NHS audiology departments are being forced to cut core services, meaning follow-up appointments are likely to be cut.
“Hearing aids should not be a sticking-plaster solution for hearing loss; you cannot issue them and send patients on their way without follow-up, as with sight loss and glasses,” says Louise Hart, a NHS Audiologist who also works for the charity.
So before waiting lists get longer, now might be a good time to lend an ear to the possible causes of deafness and find out what simple steps you can do to help prevent it.
[Related story: Hearing aids: What you need to know and how to choose one]
Speak to your boss
If you work in a noisy environment – such as construction, manufacturing or a music venue – your employer should make sure that you have hearing protection. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says noise levels above 105dB can damage your hearing if endured for more than 15 minutes each week.
But lower levels, such as between 85dB and 90dB can also cause permanent damage if you're exposed to them for hours every day. As an example a chainsaw is 115-120dB and a forklift truck is 90dB.
Keep to the 60:60 rule
If you listen to music, try to keep the volume down – below 89dB – and reduce the length of time you listen to it. Experts say you should keep to the 60:60 rule; 60% of your device’s maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes a day.
Take a break
If you go to clubs or live music venues or festivals, use the chill out zones so you can take a break from the loud noise. You can also purchase ear protectors or earplugs which enable you to hear the music without damaging your ears. It’s also important to remember it takes at least 16 hours of rest before your ears can recover after spending two hours in 100dB sound (for example in a club).
Buy better headphones
Invest in noise-cancelling headphones for your MP3 player or phone so you don’t have to turn your music or podcast up to hear it over background sounds.
Noise levels are measured in a decibel scale. You might not think you’re subjected to loudness, but the recommended level for sound is below 89dB. Someone talking normally measures at around 60dB, and someone shouting measures 80dB – so you can see it doesn’t take an awful lot to subject yourself to dangerous noise levels. Keep a check on TV and radio; it’s easy to let the volume creep up, but you won’t notice it being a few digits lower.
Be careful using cotton buds when cleaning your ears. Although a good poke with a Q-tip is most people’s go-to method, many experts warn against it, saying the bud can easily damage the delicate inner ear.
“Exposure to loud noise is the biggest preventable cause of hearing loss across the world and yet it’s avoidable.," said Paul Breckell, chief executive of Action On Hearing Loss.
"Hearing loss is a serious health condition that can affect anyone of any age - while often ignored or trivialised, it can lead to reduced employment opportunities, social isolation and even increased risks of dementia or mental health issues.”
Do you suffer from hearing loss? Share your experiences in the Comments section below.