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Deaf and hard of hearing

There are approximately nine million people in the UK who are deaf or hard of hearing. More than half of people over the age of 60 years old have a hearing loss, which is usually related to the ageing process.

If you have a hearing impairment it can be very difficult to communicate and you can start to feel quite isolated.

Reasons for hearing loss can include wax blocking the ear canal, age related changes, or brain damage. Over time the ear gradually deteriorates and this affects the majority of older people and affects everyone to varying degrees.

Signs of hearing loss

There are several signs that might indicate that you are losing your hearing, some of which are as follows:

  • You misunderstand people or need to ask them to repeat things.
  • You think people are mumbling.
  • You don’t hear the doorbell or the telephone ringing.
  • You need to turn the volume up on the television or radio.
  • You find it difficult to hear at social gatherings or when there is some background noise, even though other people manage to have conversations.
  • You miss your name being called, for example at your GP’s surgery.

Action on Hearing Loss have an online hearing test that anyone can take to establish whether they are losing their hearing. This will give you an indication of whether you have a hearing loss. If you have, you will be advised to visit your GP.

What to do if you think you have a hearing loss

If you think that you have a hearing loss, the first thing to do is to visit your GP and explain your concerns about your hearing. It is helpful to give examples of situations when you have difficulty.

If your GP can find no obvious cause for your hearing loss, they will refer you to the audiology clinic or ear, nose and throat department of your local hospital to have hearing tests.

After the hearing tests, the audiologist will explain your test results and will discuss whether hearing aids are likely to help you, or whether you could have some other form of treatment.

Coping with hearing loss

When you are experiencing problems with your hearing you are faced with other problems too. Social isolation can be a major problem and you may find that you withdraw from activities that you were involved in as they become too difficult.

There are a number of practical aids to help you with daily living including:

  • Equipment to make the sound from your television or radio louder.
  • Talking amplified telephones
  • Hearing loops
  • Alerting devices, for example a flashing light to alert you when someone rings your doorbell.
  • Home safety aids
  • Text phones
  • Text relay offers text-to-speech and speech-to-text translation services. A relay assistant in a call centre acts as an intermediary, enabling people with hearing or speech impairments to communicate with other people over the telephone.

Action on Hearing loss have a range of factsheets with more information on equipment.

Disability North and Community Health & Social Care Direct can provide more information on equipment and aids that may be useful to you.

Some specific hearing problems


Tinnitus is often described as ringing, whistling, humming or buzzing in the ears or head. It is experienced by over seven million people in the UK and can cause severe distress and suffering.

Simple techniques and equipment, ranging from relaxation tips to sound therapies, can provide distraction from the noises of tinnitus and can be used to manage the condition.

More information, support and advice is available from The British Tinnitus Association.  They also provide a short online taster session to support people newly diagnosed with tinnitus – 

Acoustic Shock

Acoustic shock happens when unannounced sounds travel though a telephone line to your handset or headset. These sounds are materially different to normal speech and often resemble a bang or a clang. The resulting symptons can include pain, tinnitus, hypersensitivity to noise, imbalance or anxiety/depression. These symptons start shortly after the incident and may fade within a few hours. However, they can last for a considerable amount of time, leading to significant disability.

If you have had an acoustic shock injury at work, for example in a call centre, you can find out more information on the Health and Safety Executive website.


Labyrinthitis is an inner ear infection that causes a delicate structure deep inside your ear called the labyrinth to become inflamed. This can affect your hearing and balance.

The most common symptoms are:

  • dizziness
  • hearing loss
  • vertigo

Other symptoms can include ear pain, nausea, headaches, a feeling of pressure in your ear and tinnitus.

In most cases, Labyrinthitis will clear itself up within a few weeks. However, you might need some medication to help you cope with the symptoms, or to fight the infection in more severe cases.

British Sign Language (BSL)

British Sign language is a visual means of communicating using gestures, facial expressions and body language. Sign language is used mainly by deaf people and people with hearing difficulties.

Subtitles and live captioning

Some television programmes have subtitles or text on screen which describes the spoken word and sounds taking place during a programme.

Hearing aids and batteries

There are a range of hearing aids available. You may be able to get a hearing aid free of charge on the NHS or you may prefer to purchase one privately. Please visit your GP for more information on hearing tests and hearing aids.

Replacement batteries for NHS hearing aids are available free of charge from a number of high street stores and The Freeman Hospital.

Lip reading

Depending on your hearing loss, a hearing aid may or may not be appropriate. Lip reading and the extent to which it is useful depends on how clearly someone speaks. When a hearing aid and lip reading are used together, it can have a positive impact on your ability to communicate with people. Lip reading classes can also offer people you opportunity to meet other people in the same situation. Find out about local classes through your library, Action on Hearing Loss or Hearing Link using the contact details in the list of organisations on the right.

Local advice and Information

Deaflink are a dedicated organisation in the North East that will support you to access employment, leisure activities and they offer support groups and an advocacy service.

Hearing LINK campaigns to raise public awareness of the needs and rights of hard of hearing and deaf people; provides information to individuals, professionals and other organisations; and offers advice and support to people experiencing problems relating to hearing loss.

Communication Support Service – Newcastle City Council for deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind people.

North Regional Association for Sensory Support (NRASS) provides a free advocacy scheme for people with hearing and sight loss.  They can offer you support with information on how you can stand up for your rights, and they can be your ‘voice’ if you don’t have the confidence to stand up for yourself in formal situations.

Community Health & Social Care Direct Sensory Support Team work with any adult who has a sensory impairment. This could be someone who is blind, partially sighted, deaf, hard of hearing or deafblind. The team usually visit people at home to assess their difficulties.

Other useful information

Accessible Information Standard

If you have a sensory loss or disability you are entitled by law to accessible information about your health care and support from the NHS and publicly funded social care services. For example this could include large print or a professional BSL interpreter at medical appointments.

Services must:

  • Find out your information needs
  • Record them in a set way
  • Highlight them in your records so that staff meet your needs every time you use services
  • Share your information needs with other services e.g. if you give details to your GP then these can be shared with any hospital service you maybe referred to
  • Make sure you get support the way you need including when your needs vary. For example you may need to receive short letters in large print but need longer documents on audio.
  • Ask on a regular basis if your needs have changed

Remember – tell services it is your right to have your needs addressed and they have to do this by law (section 250 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012)

Action on Hearing Loss has a range of helpful factsheets on ear problems. To read the factsheets in full please visit

Emergency SMS Service –  If you are deaf, hard of hearing or speech-impaired people register your mobile phone and you can send a text message for help to the UK 999 service where it will be passed to the police, ambulance, fire rescue, or coastguard. The emergency services can then reply to you via text.

Listening Ear – offer audio books for members

Please note – The content on this website is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you are feeling unwell, make an appointment to see your GP or contact NHS 111. In an emergency, dial 999.

Last updated: October 21, 2019

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