Your Hearing Matters

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Never delay seeking advice or dialling emergency services because of something that you have read on HealthUnlocked.

Out and about

Unfamiliar surroundings

Unfamiliar surroundings

Your home and workplace offer familiar surroundings you can adapt for your needs. You know the people you interact with regularly and develop strategies for communicating with them effectively.

Away from such familiar environments, people with hearing loss can face different challenges. Apart from difficulty understanding speech, you may be unable to identify the direction sounds come from, not be able to distinguish between similar sounds or noise or not hear important sounds against background noise. As well as being a source of confusion or frustration, such things can increase safety risks if you can’t hear things like approaching traffic, emergency sirens or shouted warnings.

People you deal with may speak too quickly or softly, not speak clearly, or have unfamiliar accents. Places you visit may be noisy, with poor acoustics and poor lighting which makes it harder to pick up visual clues to what’s being said.

According to the 2015 report Action Plan on Hearing Loss, by NHS England and the Department of Health, people with all levels of hearing loss can be excluded or meet substantial barriers when accessing health services, shops, leisure activities, going to the cinema, theatre or museums, attending sporting events and so on. The report found that 80% of people with hearing loss said the condition made it harder for them to participate in the arts, entertainment and leisure activities.

Planning to beat the barriers

Being prepared for dealing with the difficulties of being out and about can make your life easier.

Hearing loss is an ‘invisible disability’ that others will be unaware of unless you tell them. Don’t be shy about explaining that you have hearing loss and asking people to communicate in ways that help you. Some people carry ‘communication cards’ that explain they have poor hearing and give basic tips on clear communication, such as asking the speaker to face you, speak clearly, not shout and write down information if needed.

Many people with hearing loss carry a pen and notepad or a small tablet computer (or use a notes facility on their smartphone) so that they and other people can write down information, such as phone numbers or appointment details, so you are sure you’ve not misheard.

“I don’t avoid all social situations now but I’m selective as to what I attend. I prefer to meet with friends individually to avoid this situation. If it is a talk, I make use of my mic or try to sit in the best place for me to be able to see and hear the speaker clearly. At my son’s wedding recently, they had printed out the speeches for me to follow which was great.” - Paul



If you need help at airports or train stations because you can’t hear announcements, mention this when you book and explain exactly what help you will need. On flights, it’s a good idea to let the cabin crew know about your hearing loss.

Modern trains and buses usually have digital displays showing the next stop – position yourself where you can easily see these.

Driving does not present too many problems for most people with hearing loss and you can drive your own car or motorcycle with any level of hearing loss. While hearing is important for driving, research has found that drivers with hearing loss are more visually alert and tend to be more cautious in situations where other drivers would rely on their hearing – with normal hearing vehicles can often be heard before you see them. People who drive buses, coaches and lorries may have to report their condition to the DVLA – see GOV.UK for details.

“I always take a great deal of care when crossing roads as I can’t rely on my hearing to warn me of traffic, I’ve got to use my sight, so I’m always looking around me” - Frances

Staying social

Staying social

Planning ahead can help with visits to places like restaurants. When you book, ask for a table away from the bar or kitchen and preferably one where you can sit with your back to a wall so that sounds come from in front of you. Tables in booths are usually quieter and easier for talking to companions.

“I find modern restaurants with open plan kitchens and coffee making machines really challenging, but I always try and sit with my back to the wall and where there is good lighting. After a while choosing the right spot becomes instinctive.” Frances

Some theatres and cinemas have infrared systems for delivering sound to patrons with hearing loss. You have to wear a headset or loop receiver supplied by the venue. It’s worth checking what facilities are available in such places when you book. The website Your Local lists subtitled film screenings and gives contact details for cinemas showing the films and Stagetext theatre performances provides captioning and live subtitling services to theatres and other arts venues. For example the National Theatre have just started providing goggles with subtitles.

“The cinemas are now at least showing films with subtitles. I was determined to see Paddington 2 on the big screen and so had to go on a Sunday morning. The advantage of this was that there were lots of children there. They didn’t need the subtitles but it was very apparent that fathers had been given the task of entertaining their children while the mothers were shopping or simply having a lie-in! Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It has also been very satisfying to experience a bit of theatre again, Shakespeare’s King Richard the Third at The George in Huntingdon, thanks to the screen text performance. Screen text seems to be a growing thing at the theatre and I intend to make more visits to events where this is used, including a trip to The Edinburgh Festival next year.” - Jo

Use technology on the go

Use technology on the go

Assistive listening devices (ALDs) can make a big difference when you are out and about.

An ALD with a directional microphone can be used to pick up sound, such as speech, directly in front of you and deliver it direct to your ears, thus reducing background noise.

Many shops, offices, theatres, cinemas and public places such as airports and stations have hearing (induction) loops to help people with hearing loss.

Loop systems deliver the sound you want, for example what someone behind a shop counter is saying, direct to your ALD or hearing aid and exclude distracting background noise. Some loops are very limited in the area they cover, for example just near shop tills where you’ll need to communicate, others cover entire theatres, cinemas, lecture halls or airports. It’s a good idea to check in advance whether a venue has a loop system, so they are prepared for your visit. They may have a specific seating area for people who need this support.”

Staying safe

Poor hearing can cause you problems in emergencies and there are various services you can register for that may help.

For example, if you had to call 999 would you have difficulty understanding the emergency operator, especially when you might be flustered or in a dangerous, noisy situation? If so, you could register for the Emergency SMS service that allows you to send a 999 text message to the police, fire, ambulance or coastguard services. The message will be relayed to the right service and they’ll be able to text you back.

To have this available, you need to register your mobile number at the emergencySMS website.

It’s also a good idea for everyone, hearing loss or not, to carry details of who should be contacted if they are, for example, taken ill or involved in an accident. Some people carry a card in their purse or wallet, but the ICE – In Case of Emergency – system is becoming more common. You enter ICE as the name of an emergency contact in your phone and the emergency services know that’s the person to contact. You can add more by calling them ICE1, ICE2 and so forth.

Most modern mobile phones have dedicated ICE apps that, as well as contact numbers, let you add details of allergies, health conditions, medicines you take and other information that could help in an emergency. You can set this so that it can be accessed even when your phone is locked, and other contacts aren’t visible.

Getting your hearing tested

There are lots of ways to cope with hearing loss but for millions it is a life-long condition that may well worsen as you grow older. Only a proper assessment can diagnose the exact nature of your hearing loss and tell you whether hearing aids might be of benefit. In the next module we look at how to get help through your GP and NHS or private audiology services and what to expect from an audiology appointment.

Content on HealthUnlocked does not replace the relationship between you and doctors or other healthcare professionals nor the advice you receive from them.

Never delay seeking advice or dialling emergency services because of something that you have read on HealthUnlocked.