When should I seek help with my hearing?
It's a good idea to get regular hearing checks, even if you think your hearing is fine. Changes to your hearing can happen gradually over time, and you may not notice it if it does. You can get free hearing tests on the NHS if you ask your GP. They will usually refer you to a hearing specialist.
If you do have a problem, it's best to seek help and get treatment sooner rather than later.
Hearing aids can help with hearing loss. They work by picking up sounds around you and amplifying them inside your ear canal. They can also be set to connect to induction loops, which help you hear certain people more clearly in noisier environments. See below for more information about induction loops.
Hearing aids only work if you have some of your hearing left, so the earlier you get one the more effective it can be.
On the NHS
If you need a hearing aid, you can get one free on the NHS. Your GP will refer you to an audiologist, who will assess your hearing and tell you the best type of hearing aid for you.
The NHS provides hearing aids as a long-term loan. This means they will provide repairs and replacement batteries free, but may charge it it gets broken or lost and needs to be replaced.
There are two main types of hearing aid available on the NHS. They are:
Behind the ear (BTE) hearing aids
These are the most common sort of hearing aid. These are made up of a plastic device that goes behind your ear, which houses a microphone, amplifier and loudspeaker. This connects to a plastic tube that goes inside your ear canal to transmit the sounds into your ear.
If you imagine a hearing aid, the image you bring up is probably a BTE hearing aid with a plastic device that sits behind the ear. Modern models can be quite discreet, and may not be as obvious as you imagine. They can come in a range of colours.
They are usually battery-powered. If your model uses disposable batteries, they'll need to be changed regularly. If it uses rechargeable batteries, you'll usually need to charge it every day.
Receiver in the ear (RITE) hearing aids
These are similar to BTE hearing aids, except that the part that sits behind your ear is smaller. This means they can be harder to operate, but more discreet. They are also less likely to be provided by the NHS.
If you want to, you can buy a hearing aid privately. You might want to do this if the model you want isn't available on the NHS, or if you're worried about potential waiting times for an NHS hearing aid. This can be an expensive option - a single hearing aid can cost between £500 and £3,500.
There is often greater choice if you receive treatment privately. Options can include more hidden hearing aids, and hearing aids designed for people with hearing loss only in one ear.
It's best to shop around - some models may suit you more than others. More expensive models may not be the best for you, so try to avoid being pressured into buying a more expensive model if you're not sure it'll be worth it. Some of the more expensive hearing aids are much smaller, and can be tricky to operate and change batteries, especially if you have sight or dexterity problems.
Some people can't use hearing aids, for example if you've got no hearing at all, or if you're allergic to the materials they're made of. There are other devices that can help you even if your hearing loss is profound and permanent. Talk to your GP or audiologist about other options.
Technology to help with daily life
There's a wide range of devices that can make living with hearing loss easier and safer.
You could get a doorbell with an especially loud ring, designed for people with some hearing left. Alternatively, you can get doorbells that flash to let you know someone's there, and models that you can wear on your wrist that vibrate when someone rings.
The Disabled Living Foundation has more information.
Using your home phone
If your phone's ringer isn't loud enough for you to hear when someone calls, make sure it's on the loudest setting.If it still isn't loud enough, you can get a phone designed with especially loud ringers and handsets. There are also devices you can attach to your current phone to make it louder, or a flashing light that lets you know when someone's calling, if you don't want to get a new home phone. You can also get a device on your wrist that vibrates.
Help hearing the TV or radio
You might find that, because of your hearing loss, you prefer to have the TV or radio on much more loudly than those around you. You could try watching with subtitles instead. If you have a hearing aid, there are ways you can watch TV or listen to the radio at a volume that's comfortable for everyone. You can get a wireless device that delivers the sound of the TV or radio directly to your hearing aid.
Action on Hearing Loss has more information on these devices.
If your hearing loss means it's harder for you to hear your smoke alarm, it's important that you get one designed for people with hearing problems. They usually include a vibrating pad to put under your pillow or mattress to wake you if the alarm goes off at night, and flashing lights to alert you during the day.
To find out what would work best for you, get a free home fire safety check. You can arrange this through your local fire and rescue service. They will assess the safety of your home and recommend a smoke alarm that's best for you.
The Emergency SMS service lets you contact the emergency services by sending a text message from your mobile phone to 999 or 112. This could be useful if your hearing loss makes it hard for you to use the phone. If you want to use this service, you have to register your mobile phone first. Action on Hearing Loss has more information.
Hearing loss combined with sight loss is complex, and is treated in different ways depending on your circumstances.
What should I get?
It's important to shop around before you buy new technology. Some of these devices can be expensive, so make sure that they will address your needs before you commit.
You can get advice on what hearing aid is best for you by talking to your GP or audiologist.
For advice on what to do if you think you've got hearing loss or you've been diagnosed, contact Action on Hearing Loss's Information Line. You can call or email them.
If your needs are high enough, you could ask your local council for a care needs assessment. The council will assess your needs and tell you what sort of equipment could help you. You could also be entitled to financial support, which is assessed separately.