Hearing loss is sometimes sudden, but more often it happens gradually and you may not notice it at first.
It can be temporary or permanent. You may also have other symptoms, such as earache, unusual noises in your ear (tinnitus) or a spinning sensation (vertigo).
See your GP if you notice a problem with your hearing. They can help work out what might be causing it.
General signs of hearing loss
It can be hard to tell if you're losing your hearing. Other people may notice it before you do.
Early signs of hearing loss include:
- difficulty hearing other people clearly and misunderstanding what they say, especially in noisy places
- asking people to repeat themselves
- listening to music or watching TV with the volume higher than other people need
- difficulty hearing on the phone
- finding it hard to keep up with a conversation
- feeling tired or stressed from having to concentrate while listening
These problems are often caused by hearing loss that can happen as you get older. This is permanent, but treatments such as hearing aids can help.
Signs of hearing loss in 1 ear
It's not always easy to tell if you've lost hearing in 1 ear, as you may still be able to hear with your other ear.
Signs of a hearing problem in 1 ear include:
- your hearing is worse when sound comes from 1 side
- all sounds seem generally quieter than usual
- finding it hard to tell where sound is coming from
- difficulty ignoring background noise or telling different sounds apart
- finding speech unclear
- difficulty hearing in noisy places or over long distances
Hearing loss in 1 ear is often caused by sound temporarily being unable to pass through the ear – for example, because of earwax or an ear infection.
Signs of hearing loss in children
Your child may have a problem with their hearing if they:
- are slow to learn to talk, or aren't clear when they speak
- don't reply when you call them
- talk very loudly
- ask you to repeat yourself or respond inappropriately to questions
- turn up the volume of the TV very high
See your GP if you're worried about your child's hearing.
Hearing loss in children can be caused by a build-up of fluid in the ear (glue ear), which tends to get better over time and can be treated.
Signs of hearing loss in babies
Babies have a hearing check in the first few weeks after birth, but speak to your health visitor or see your GP if you think they might have difficulty hearing.
They may have a problem with their hearing if they:
- aren't startled by loud noises
- seem to hear some sounds but not others
- notice you when they see you, but not when you call their name
- don't turn towards voices by 4 months of age
- haven't started to say any recognisable words by around 15 months
For more about what to look out for, see NHS Newborn Screening leaflets on: