IT’S something the majority of us take for granted – our hearing.
But hearing loss is surprisingly common and affects one in six adults in the UK at some point.
It can change many aspects of day-to-day life – relationships, work and awareness of the environment around us.
But Deaf Awareness Week, from May 19 - 25, aims to encourage people to not only get their own hearing checked, but be alert to others’, too.
With the aim of reaching ‘equality in communication for all’, the event is pioneered and coordinated by the UK Council on Deafness.
The council aims to reach a society where deaf people are able to fully participate in their community and helps to represent the interests of the deaf and hard of hearing in UK organisations.
“It’s amazing how deafness can impact your life and the lives of others,” said Ellie-May Hilsdon, audiomatrician at Specsavers Hearing Centre in Chichester.
“We want people to know there is no stigma to having your hearing tested. People aren’t worried about getting their eyes tested, so why should their hearing be any different?
“It’s amazing how people’s lives can change when they get deaf. It can be very isolating and quite lonely for people. You might find it harder to keep up with conversations and understand what is going on in groups.
“Often people stop going out because they get nervous or stop joining in because they can’t hear.”
It is a common misconception to think deafness affects only the elderly – Ellie-May said she saw people as young as 18 in the hearing centre, but only with a referral from a GP.
“Sometimes all people need is a bit of fine tuning – which can make all the difference,” she said.
Hearing tests are free on the NHS and Specsavers, among other companies such as Chichester Hearing Care Centre, have been accredited to provide hearing tests and hearing aids.
People may think their hearing is perfect but it can fade gradually without people noticing – through exposure to loud noises or even just deterioration with age.
Ellie-May has held talks in schools to make youngsters aware head phones can damage hearing – noise levels exceeding 105 decibels can damage hearing if endured for more than 15 minutes – and mp3 players can reach 112 decibels.
She said it was not uncommon for young musicians to be affected.
Hearing centres also aim to provide hearing aids as soon as a diagnosis is made for conditions such as dementia.
“We’ve found it can really help people’s health if we detect a hearing problem early,” said Ellie-May.
She said it helped people get used to the clarity of sound – which can sometimes be overwhelming.
Unsightly hearing aids can put people off the idea of having a hearing test, but the styles have advanced – with some so small they can be discreetly positioned in the ear.
Ellie-May is eager to encourage people not to view deafness or any type of hearing loss, in yourself or others, as something to be anxious about confronting.
“It’s about your quality of life and that’s very important.”
To read Observer reporter Olivia Lerche’s experience of hearing loss, see this week’s Observer (May 22).