Using the phone affects everybody's hearing. We hear things differently through a handset because the sounds are changed. Over your lifetime your hearing changes naturally too – so it’s perfectly normal if you think you’ve noticed a difference.
We’ve put together this information for people who are worried their hearing might be going, or who know someone who's having trouble hearing when they’re using the phone.
What causes hearing loss?
According to Action on Hearing Loss, the main causes of permanent hearing loss are:
Age – more than half of people experience hearing loss by the age of 60
Noise exposure – loud music or a noisy working environment can do a lot of damage
Disease – ear infections, torn ear drums, measles and meningitis can often cause hearing problems
Genetics – one in a thousand of us are born with a serious hearing condition.
Recognising hearing loss
When you're on the phone, it can be hard to know whether the other person has hearing problems. These are some of the tell-tale signs:
- the other person seems to have difficulty understanding you
- you have to repeat things to make yourself clear
- they seem to find listening to you tiring or a real effort
- they seem to think people often mumble on the phone
- someone struggles to follow group conversations in places like cafés and pubs.
Action on Hearing Loss has an online hearing check for people who are worried they might be losing their hearing. Remember, it's always better to act sooner rather than later where hearing health is concerned.
What does hearing loss sound like?
If you're wondering what it’s like to have a hearing impairment, have a listen to the recordings on the Inclusive Design Toolkit. You'll hear conversations in busy places like restaurants and train stations, as well as different types of music. Go to the Inclusive Design Toolkit.
How to talk to someone with hearing loss
If you’re talking to someone with a hearing loss, it can make life much better for them if you follow a few simple rules on the phone:
There's really no need. Speaking normally is important for people who need to lip read you. And it's much more civilised.
Take your time and stay relaxed. It's much easier for someone to hear you if you speak carefully and clearly.
If necessary, repeat the sentence
Simple. If someone misses what you say, just say it again. If they still don't understand, try saying it in a different way.
Spell difficult words
You can always spell out tricky words letter by letter. Try it, it's really easy.
We've got lots more tips on our Making calling easier page.
Which phone features should I be looking for?
Nowadays there are lots of phones that can help people with hearing loss and deafness. Here are some features that can help:
- compatibility with hearing aids, so you get less interference
- an inductive coupler, which actively works with many hearing aids (when they’re set to the T-position) to reduce background noise
- adjustable ring tone and volume controls
- hands-free capability – useful if you use two hearing aids so the sound can go to both ears
- flashing lights to let you know when you’ve got a call or message
- a socket for plugging in a headset
- a record function, so you can play back your calls in your own time.
Protecting your hearing
There’s plenty you can do to protect the hearing you have now.
How loud is too loud?
If the sound ever hurts your ears, it’s too loud and could damage your hearing. Move away from it immediately and turn it down if you can. Action on Hearing Loss has more detailed information on what level of noise is dangerous.
Two of the main ways that people expose themselves to noise that can damage their hearing are at work and when listening to music.
Noise at work
If you work in a noisy environment, take care to protect your ears. Check out the Noise at Work website from the Health & Safety Executive if you want to know more about looking after your hearing at work.
Listening to music
Hearing loss caused by loud music is usually gradual, which means you might not realise you’re doing damage until it’s too late. The longer and louder you listen to music, the more likely it is to damage your hearing. Loud music also puts you at risk of tinnitus, a constant ringing or buzzing in your ears for which there is currently no cure. Find out more on the Hearing Link website.