What would the world be like without sound? All of us can imagine to some extent what it would be like to be blind – we simply have to shut our eyes.
It’s much more difficult to imagine being unable to hear speech or music or the dawn chorus, or even the clatter when you drop a pan or your own ‘ouch’ when you stub a toe.
There may be sounds that you would rather not hear – the throbbing music leaking from a fellow passenger’s headphones, the road drill outside your office window, the car alarm that goes off at two o’clock in the morning, your nextdoor neighbour’s lawnmower disturbing a lazy summer afternoon in the garden… yet wouldn’t it feel strange if you couldn’t hear them?
Follow on for our self-test questionnaire to find out if you have a hearing problem.
Have you got a hearing problem?
Do you have difficulty hearing or following what is being said in the following situations?
- Listening to the television when the volume is adjusted to suit someone else.
- Talking on the telephone.
- Having a conversation with someone in a busy place, such as a street, shop or restaurant. Having a conversation with several people in a group.
- Listening to someone against a background noise, such as a whirring fan or running water. Having a conversation when you can’t see the other person’s face full on.
- Talking to women or children – even though you can hold conversations with men without any difficulty.
Do you often:
- Ask people to repeat what they’ve said?
- Misunderstand what people say?
- Agree or nod even when you’re not sure what’s been said?
- Feel that other people mumble when they talk?
- Turn up the radio or television to a volume that others say is too loud?
- Have to watch other people’s facial expressions or lip movements to understand what they say?
Minor degrees of hearing loss = intense frustration
The world is, by and large, such a noisy place that relative calm and silence – which are important for our general wellbeing – have become rare treats to be relished.
But as we get older, the world may become uncomfortably quieter if certain important sounds are more difficult to hear – for instance, the telephone ringing, a grandchild crying or the best moments of a favourite symphony.
Even minor degrees of hearing loss can cause intense frustration –when you have to strain to hear what other people are saying, miss crucial spoken information such as station announcements, or feel left out in social situations because you can’t follow conversations if there’s a lot of background noise.
Yet, even if a certain amount of hearing loss is inevitable as we grow older – and it’s by no means certain that it is – there is much that can be done to protect this vital sense and there are many causes of hearing loss that can be treated.
In this section you will learn all about your ears and the remarkable process of hearing.
You will find out why balance disorders may result from ear problems and about other symptoms, such as tinnitus (a persistent, irritating sound in the ears), which can accompany them.
Because you’re concerned enough about your senses to be reading this, you will no doubt want to take steps to preserve your hearing and your enjoyment of the sounds of life – for life.
Measuring sound levels
Sound is measured in decibels – a term derived from the Latin for ‘ten’ plus the name of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, and shortened to dB.
Any sound-measurement scale has to include a huge range of sound intensities, from a ticking watch to a jet aircraft taking off – a difference of 200,000,000,000 times – so scientists use a logarithmic or ‘log’ scale, which means that every increase of 10 dB represents a sound that is ten times as loud.
Whether noise causes hearing loss depends both on the intensity of the sound and the length of exposure.